Saturday, June 23, 2012

Top 50 Video Games: Number 2

Platform: SNES
Absurdly Specific Genre: Emsemble cast, the RPG
Difficulty: 5 (there's a couple of fights that pack a bit of punch, but it's nothing too crazy)
Beaten: Yes

It's only now that I realize the grave error I've made in my top 50 moments list. That list is, by its very nature, more nostalgic and prone to be swayed by how I felt during the moment as it occurred. With that in mind, how on earth did I miss the introductory cutscene to this game? It's cinematic as all get out - with the three mechs overlooking the town and then making the slow walk in the snow. It's a top 30 moment for sure, and I blew it.

Maybe that's because the rest of the game does such a good job of making sure that it never lets up on the powerful moments. From  poisoning of Doma to Cyan's (all too brief) reunion with his family to the mildly terrifying first encounter with Atma/Ultima ("Feeble creatures... GO!" and the chilling boss music that plays) to the finale, when Kefka admits that at his core, he's not homicidal, he's omnicidal he just wants the whole world to burn.

Laughing all the way.
The story is epic. The music is epic - it's probably Nobuo Uematsu's best work (the way the boss theme breaks into play in any of the many times that a boss sneaks up on you is lots of fun). The characters are all rich and varied (lots of archetypes from previous Final Fantasy games, but lots of new ones, as well). 

The game itself plays beautifully, and though the second half doesn't quite live up to the first half (I always chose not to abuse the vanish/x-zone glitch, and I only taught one character Ultima, since I generally try to keep things on a non-lame level), it still has plenty of memorable parts while you get the team all back together for the final assault. I actually liked the fact that you had to split the party in three for that final attack, since I'm generally the kind of guy who likes to use all kinds of different characters, anyway.

Except Strago. Fuck that old brainwashed coot.
All of it adds up to a game that is the best game that isn't the best game ever. I play through the whole thing every couple of years, and I always find it to be a joyful, fresh experience. RPGs have gotten bigger and prettier and more complex (one last dig at the goofypants Final Fantasy XIII story, I mean, that shit was just weird). They've never topped this one. I sort of doubt they ever will.

Other Notable Final Fantasy games:

I started a new run of Final Fantasy I well after I had solidified the list, and I'm finding it to be a lot of fun. Probably not top 50 fun, but it's still a pleasant surprise.

I get Final Fantasy IV and V confused in my head a lot. It probably means I should give them both a replay. I'm thinking of starting with V, since it's been longer since I played through that one.

I'm trying to remember ever having played II or III. I can't remember details on either. Are they good?


  1. I started playing II. It is not good. I actually got myself stuck at one point in an impossible win situation.

    A couple times I've started playing through a true translation of VI. The dialogue is significantly better and resonates more emotionally. You can also play with an emulator and download patches to eliminate glitches that make the game easier and remove censored things in the U.S. version.

  2. II is bad, and yeah, there are a lot of situations where you can render the game unwinnable. III is fine - it's a nice introduction to the job system.

    It's funny to me that you get IV and V mixed up. IV is an epic, large story with a ton of characters with set abilities and V is a smaller-scale story with five characters that's on the job system.

    VI tends to have a great reputation, but the fact that everyone can learn every spell drives me frigging nuts, so the gameplay lags behind a few games in the series (some would call this a plus, of course, but I find it takes away from the importance of each character) and the story lags significantly behind IX, though I've played a large part of Beau's emulator and, indeed, the better translation adds a lot to the game. I also would say that IX's soundtrack is the best of the series, and actually, Nobuo Uematsu is with me on that one. That's like picking between children, though. He doesn't know how to not be awesome.

    There's a Nintendo DS (or is it GBA?) version of IV that updates the translation of that game, and it too is more powerful as a result. Cecil is such a half-assed bad guy at the beginning of the SNES release, so his transformation into paladin doesn't mean much. In the truer update, he's thoroughly a rotten human being before he's thrust into his new circumstances, and the story is much better for it.

  3. If anybody is interested in wasting a lot of time reading/reminiscing about Final Fantasy games, I highly recommend the series retrospectives located here covering all the main series games and a few side ones. As can be gleaned from titling it "The Rise and Fall..." the author skews in favor of the old school and views the peak probably around VI and somewhat VII. There's a lot of entertaining stuff in there.

  4. Yeah, that version of FFIV is pretty sweet. It also gets freaking hard at the end (just like the GBA version of Final Fantasy I gets harder, too), which is nice.