Tag Archives: editorial

Why Square Enix Should Look To Final Fantasy IX

Regardless of your opinion on the current Final Fantasy games, (or Square Enix in general) everyone can agree that the newer games are becoming less and less like the classic RPGs so many people cherish.  This is understandable because times have changed and more importantly some of the original creators are no longer involved with the series, so it makes sense they won’t feel the same.

Final Fantasy IX Bahamut

A problem arises though when long term fans of the series no longer enjoy the direction the developers are taking Final Fantasy, the games themselves are no longer earning the critical praise they once were and the attempts to “attract new fans” to the series is not proving successful. It seems Square Enix wants to return Final Fantasy to it’s former glory, but are not sure of the right way to do so.

Final Fantasy IX Looks

Recent attempts from the developers at Square Enix seem to have been based around trying to emulate what made Final Fantasy VII so popular. Unfortunately the idea that Square Enix seems to have about why everyone loves Final Fantasy VII in the first place is far from the actual reason from the fans themselves.

So is there a better option? Well as much as Final Fantasy VII is my favourite RPG of all time, I think Square Enix should instead look to Final Fantasy IX and its design as a way to create a Final Fantasy that everyone can enjoy.

Final Fantasy IX AirshipsI have been recently replaying through Final Fantasy IX and the first thing I noticed is how well it bridges the gap between the older 2D games of FF1-6 and (at the time of its release) the modern 3D games of FF7-8. Final Fantasy IX had the soul and character of the SNES games, but utilises the graphics, mechanics and gameplay systems expected of the modern hardware it was designed for. Hironobu Sakaguchi has stated that Final Fantasy IX is the “closest to (his) ideal view of what Final Fantasy should be” and having played all of the single-player titles in the main series it is easy to see why.

Final Fantasy IX Alexandria Party

The other thing I noticed was how many features Final Fantasy IX incorporated that I think are missing from the newest iterations in the series. Final Fantasy IX returned the series to a more medieval fantasy setting after the futuristic worlds of the games that preceded it and it was a breath of fresh air. Imagination ran wild as instead of using trains or cars to travel world, you could ride on the back of the giant insect-like Gargants through tunnels and instead of having all the characters being humans, you had a variety of different races such as anthropomorphic rats from Burmecia or faceless Black Mages. Final Fantasy IX’s world was full of interesting locations that were new, inventive and a joy to discover. Not only was it artistically beautiful, but there were so many secrets to uncover, which encouraged exploration and curiosity.
Final Fantasy IX Character Concepts
The other area Final Fantasy IX excelled in was its characters, and more importantly their growth and development. Playing the game again, the attention to detail with each character is exceptional. When you entered a new place the party would split up and you could find them off doing their own thing. Vivi would be wandering around like a lost child, while Steiner would be in the weapon shop checking out the latest armour. Without spoon-feeding the player, you could understand what made these characters tick and it made them all the more relatable.
Final Fantasy IX Vivi Life
Of course the story itself also did a fantastic job of bringing the characters to life. For all the action packed moments such as the mid-air chase through South Gate or the epic battle of the Eidolons between Bahamut and Alexander, Final Fantasy IX had just as many quiet heartfelt ones such as Vivi talking through his fear of death with one of the Black Mages or when Zidane tells Garnet the reason why he decided to go with her at Madain Sari. Not only were the main characters developed well, but many of the non-playable characters had their own story arcs and even the main antagonist Kuja is introduced early and stays all the way to the end, dealing with his own mortality. The strength of Final Fantasy IX narrative lies in the fact that its characters deal with real human emotions; fear of death, loneliness, identity, self worth and belonging. While more recent games have featured stories with needlessly complicated plots, the relative simplicity of Final Fantasy IX made it all the more human.
Final Fantasy IX Life Goes On
This straight forward approach to design also worked in the gameplay systems. While newer customisation and battle systems seem to strive to be a complex as possible, Final Fantasy IX made them simple and effective. Equipping weapons, armour and accessories let you learn new abilities and every character had a unique skillset that made experimenting with different party combinations and strategies fun and engaging. Instead of having all your characters as blank states that could be switched around interchangeably, you had to change your strategy on the fly depending on which characters were currently accessible, forcing the player to learn how to best utilise each character effectively. Final Fantasy IX is one of the only RPGs where I regularly changed my party and used different combinations depending on what part of the story I was up to.
Final Fantasy IX Battle
Many see Final Fantasy IX as a reflection on what the series used to be, but it should be also seen as the perfect blueprint to move the series forward while staying true to its spirit.
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Is the Time Right for a Remake of The Legend of Dragoon?

I have just begun playing The Legend of Dragoon for the first time. Released on the original PlayStation in 2000, this was Sony’s attempt at developing an epic RPG to ride the wave of success started by Final Fantasy VII. While it was popular, it never garnered the critical acclaim, or the commercial success of the game it tried to emulate, but it was an outstanding RPG in its own right. While I have been having a fantastic time playing it and it definitely has that magical feel that only RPGs made in that era posses, I believe this would be a great time for Sony to remake the game for a new generation.

The Legend of Dragoon Dart Shana Rose

Firstly, The Legend of Dragoon was released towards the end of the PlayStation’s lifespan and the PlayStation 2 was beginning to take over, so many players may have missed out on the opportunity to play the game. With Sony set to announce new hardware and with a general lack of large-scale console RPGs developed by Sony anymore, now would be a great time to re-imagine the game and capture player’s interests.

The Legend of Dragoon Beautiful

While The Legend of Dragoon was created with pre-rendered backgrounds and low polygon character models, the art direction is detailed and beautiful and would translate well to the realistic graphics found in today’s games. There are a number of set pieces found in the story that would be amazing to see with updated graphics and could be a fine showcase of Sony’s new hardware.

The Legend of Dragoon Attack

The turn-based battle system also tried to do something different, by including real time button presses to execute combos and increase attack power. This made combat more engaging and would allow the designers to keep the turn-based mechanics, instead of following most modern RPGs that utilise more action orientated battle systems. The battles are very cinematic, especially with the Dragoon transformations, which would also translate well into more realistic graphics.

The Legend of Dragoon Dart

The Legend of Dragoon was made as a chance for Sony to increase the momentum of RPGs at the time, but a remake now would allow the game to stand on its own. The story is interesting, the characters are memorable and the game play has unique features that set it apart. A remake would also allow the designers to tweak some aspects of the game such as an updating the soundtrack, adding more voice acting and having a free-roaming world map. It was recently revealed that a sequel was once in production but was unfortunately cancelled and while The Legend of Dragoon was a great RPG that might not have found its full potential, the time is now right for a remake!

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Why I Prefer No Voice Acting in RPGs

There was a time when characters only “spoke” through dialogue boxes and showed all their emotions and charm through body language. In modern RPGs voice acting is the norm, but I find myself more immersed in older games where I am free to imagine characters personalities. At first I thought this was just nostalgia to games made from that era, but after recently playing the newly released The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword I have come to the conclusion that I prefer it that way.

Firstly, by having characters converse through written dialogue the player is free to input their own ideas of how they think the character should sound. This really helps with engaging the player in the story as they care more about characters they have helped conceive. It is also easier to identify with the protagonist of the story if the player feels like they can imagine themselves saying the characters lines or adding in a bit of their own personality.

With the emergence of voice acting, musical scores in RPGs have also seemed to take a backseat. In older games music was used to create atmosphere, highlight a memorable scene or to characterise an important party member. In Chrono Trigger we instantly knew Frog was a courageous and noble character just by the triumphant music that played with him and most players would also remember fondly each character from Final Fantasy VI just by hearing their accompanying theme songs. When an RPG features voice acting, it takes centre stage and the music is relegated to background noise, more like a movie. Most of the soundtracks I hear in modern games consist mostly of not very memorable ambient sounds rather than the catchy melodies of years past.

Voice acting can also be over the top, and may even lose the simplicity of scenes where characters show their feelings through their actions. In Final Fantasy VII, after Aeris’ death, each character has their own unique reaction to the tragedy. Some look to the heavens or stand in contemplation, others break down crying or try to hide their tears, but no one says a word and the whole scene is more powerful because of it. If it were remade with voice acting I fear it would lose a lot of the emotion by trying to be too dramatic. Even the cut scenes in previously mentioned The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword perfectly demonstrates Links insurmountable determination and his affection for Zelda without the need to reiterate it through having him speak. I guess a picture really is worth a thousand words.

There are many RPGs that have featured fantastic voice acting, but for me I would rather let my imagination fill out the characters personalities, let the enchanting music set the scene and have the characters show me their emotions.

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What Makes a Memorable Villain?

RPGs often have memorable main characters that the player feels a real connection with, but what about the villains? Sometimes the bad guys take the spotlight, and this is an important ingredient in providing an engaging story. With most RPGs dealing with saving the world from a greater evil, a memorable villain really enhances the experience, as the player has more of urge to defeat them. Some of the most iconic villains in the Final Fantasy series come from the sixth and seventh instalments and they both have several traits that make them memorable.

Kefka was a nihilistic and insane antagonist that not only threatened to destroy the world, but actually achieved it. Kefka’s list of evil includes poisoning the water to create a mass murder, killing his own allies and causing destruction to the world. While most antagonists seem to have a plan that they never quite put into action, Kefka wasn’t about to wait around for you to interfere, he was unpredictable and impulsive and it made him extremely dangerous.

Kefka was so memorable because he was a worthy adversary, you felt like he would stop at nothing to achieve his goal of destruction and you couldn’t reason with him.

Kefka: “Why do people insist on creating things that will inevitably be destroyed? Why do people cling to life, knowing that they must someday die? …Knowing that none of it will have meant anything once they do?”

Kefka was compelling not only because he performed unimaginable evil, but because his way of life and thought processes was intriguing. He was different to us, he was different to the main characters and you needed to stop him.

Sephiroth was another story, we first hear about him as a hero, the greatest SOLDIER of them all. Until you get further into the game you are not sure why you are against him, until his true past is revealed. Sephiroth is then portrayed to the player as a tragic character, as once he found out about the horrifying experiments that were used to create him, he goes insane. This makes Sephiroth seem more human and relatable, compared to the superhuman he is initially shown to be.

Despite this, the real reason Sephiroth is such a successful villain is his relationship to the main character Cloud. He was Cloud’s childhood hero, but after he went insane he set fire to Cloud’s hometown and murdered many of the people there. Cloud seeks revenge and the personal vendetta is what keeps the motivation high to settle the score. Once Sephiroth’s true plan is revealed and he kills Aeris in cold blood the player is so invested with the characters mindset that there is nothing more important than bringing his reign of terror to an end.

Cloud: “…Shut up. The cycle of nature and your stupid plan don’t mean a thing. Aeris is gone. Aeris will no longer talk, no longer laugh, cry… or get angry…. What about us… what are WE supposed to do?”

Having Sephiroth tied to Cloud’s past and portraying him as a fallen hero made him an intriguing character and a memorable villain.

As the final battle with the main antagonist is usually the last thing for the player to do in most RPGs, its villains such as these that make the victory more rewarding and satisfying.

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The Differing Path of a Hero – Final Fantasy Tactics

Final Fantasy Tactics tells the story of the “War of the Lions” in which two Dukes are battling to take over leadership of the kingdom of Ivalice. History is written to show that a man of common blood rose to become king and bring peace to all of Ivalice, but through the game’s narrative it is revealed that all is not as it seemed. Two “heroes” are shown throughout the game; Delita, the future King of Ivalice and Ramza, the main playable character who the pages of history forgot.

The opening chapter in Final Fantasy Tactics introduces the player to the relationship between Ramza Beoulve, the youngest son of a famous noble family and his friend Delita Heiral, who was born a commoner, but was adopted into the Beoulve family. During their youth they discover the harsh realities of the world they live in and the barrier between people’s birth and class. Culminating in the death of Delita’s sister as she is cruelly sacrificed because of her common blood, the pair goes on separate paths. It is here that the story expertly portrays the different choices both men make that lead to their ultimate fates.

Delita aspires to rise above his status and control his own destiny. He very much believes that the end justifies the means and sets in motion a plan to manipulate, deceive and backstab everyone to satisfy his own ambitions. As the story plays out, Delita changes sides and allies, always pulling the strings, before he succeeds in his plan to rise to the throne and marry the princess Ovelia. After becoming the King of Ivalice and supposedly fulfilling his objective, Ovelia confronts him about manipulating her and others and through her distrust attempts to kill him. As Delita defends himself and retaliates, he is left questioning whether the path he chose led him to happiness. Although Delita is remembered in history as a saviour, he is presented as a tragic hero, much like some of Shakespeare’s famous characters.

On the other path, a disillusioned Ramza rejects the noble Beoulve name and sets off to fight for justice, protect the princess who is caught up in the political mess and discover Delita’s motives. Ramza is shown to always hold his morals over anything else and in a world of deceit, he is brave enough to choose what he believes is right. Eventually branded a heretic, by the corrupt Glabados Church, Ramza continues to fight for the good of all, even though his part as the true hero of Ivalice is never known to the public. Ramza is portrayed as a great hero, in that he holds no special powers, but he is just an ordinary man who shows courage and resilience beyond all the other characters. Ramza’s ultimate fate is never confirmed, although it is hinted that he may have lived a peaceful life with his beloved sister.

While Final Fantasy Tactics deals with the barriers between nobles and commoners and the ugly face of human nature during war, in the end it shows that a man can always be content with how he chooses to live his life.

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What Captivates Me About RPGs

We all play RPGs for different reasons. They provide wonderful stories, unforgettable characters, fantastical worlds and enjoyable game play mechanics. I find myself drawn to different aspects, but all my favourite games seem to balance these attributes to provide great experiences.

I am initially drawn to exploring new and exciting worlds and settings. I often daydream of getting lost in deep and magical adventures and the imaginary world in RPGs are an important escape from reality. I still remember the first time I stepped foot in the gritty Midgar, marvelled at the serene Opassa Beach or flew into Lindblum. The best RPGs use detailed art styles and present imaginative locales to appeal to our senses and hook us in to their strange inviting worlds.

Once the scene is set, intriguing and thrilling stories keep me on the edge of my seat, eager to experience the next plot twist or learn more about the world’s history. While I love stories, RPGs take it to another level allowing me to interact and feel more involved in the plot. Books can tell us great stories, but only RPGs can immerse us in them. Whether it’s travelling through time to save the future, or fighting against a corrupt empire, my favourite RPGs let me be a part of many memorable adventures.

The most important part of any story driven experience is ultimately the characters. Finding friends that you hold dear for years to come, or feeling hatred towards villains that perform unforgivable evil, RPGs have a wide variety of personas. Crono could capture our attention without saying a word and Kefka was someone to fear. Interesting characters help draw you into the experience and deep character development makes them seem real and human.

Video games still need to be fun to play and I’m drawn to the building up and customising of my party of characters and then battling against gigantic monsters and epic bosses. The other aspect I find I enjoy about classic RPGs is the variety in game play with the use of set pieces in the story or the implementation of mini-games.

There are so many other aspects of RPGs I love, such as whimsical music and hidden secrets that I am always on the look out for my next journey to unknown lands.

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Creativity Comes Out When Something is Limited

I find myself wanting to play older RPG’s more often lately. These games told incredible stories and had great atmosphere without the need for realistic graphics found in today’s games. They are still captivating and fun to play even now, despite their seemingly limited technology.

RPGs greatest attributes are the sense of fantasy and wonder they convey. Sure, they need to be able to set the scene and portray interesting characters, but leaving some things to the player’s imagination enhances the experience. With the limited hardware available, designers had to think of creative ways to draw players into deep stories and evoke emotion.

Music is something that has been downplayed in modern games. Without the use of voice acting seen in recent RPGs, the musical score of older RPGs had to add to the character of the game and enhance certain scenes. Many locations, events and characters are memorable based purely on the music that accompanies them. The music itself was limited through the hardware capabilities, yet this often let to creative arrangements and simple catchy melodies that made them instantly stand out.

Graphics were created to engage the player and present them with an enticing world beyond their own, but still left enough to allow imagination to run wild. This led to players having a more original and personal experience, not unlike visualising characters in a classic book. Without the need to have extremely realistic graphics, more risks could be made with locations and stories and more time could be spent on creating various innovative game play mechanics. It meant RPGs would have an epic scale and a world that felt enormous.

I guess I dream of returning to the days when discovery and exploration was a main feature in RPGs. The adventure seemed endless and rewarding and the experience was as much about learning of the character’s stories, as it was about imagining it. Make sure to play some classic RPGs as they were made with true creativity and offer some unforgettable experiences.

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