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Final Fantasy II – Re-Review

I know guys, I know. I’ve already reviewed Final Fantasy II, which I’ve already stated was a mediocre game. Though that was one of my first reviews written, so it was half-assed. Honestly more could be said about the game. So this is going to do justice to my original review.

Let’s go.

Released in 1988, Square decided that based on the popularity of Final Fantasy, they were going to make a sequel. This time, the development team decided to craft a story first, and then work on the gameplay.  This actually wasn’t a bad idea, and was kind of groundbreaking for the time. They also decided to be ambitious on the leveling up mechanics, while also groundbreaking, it didn’t work so well. More on that later.

Story:

You play as four young characters: Firion, Maria, Guy and Leon, their town was attacked by the soldiers from the evil Palamecia Empire. You barely escape with your necks attached, and you wake up in the town of Altair, home of the resistance fighters. Led by Princess Hilda of Flynn, she wants to restore the former glory of her kingdom, and also stop the evil Emperor of Palamecia. You want to join the resistance, but Hilda says you’re too young and inexperienced. So you go off to find your friend Leon, who went missing in the attack. You then meet Prince Scott of Kashuan, who informs that a rogue soldier from Flynn betrayed them and has joined the Empire, he then dies. You go back to Hilda and give her the news, she decides to have a change of heart, and you are now resistance members. Thus your quest begins!

While the plot has more going on than the original game, and other RPG’s at the time, it’s still a bit archaic. The game mostly consists of reporting back to Hilda several times, and her sending you on a giant scavenger hunt. Go here and find this item, cool, now go here and do this. Oh okay, now to this place and, yeah you get it by now. I get that you’re supposed to be helping out the resistance fighters, but holy hell is this tedious and mostly pointless.

Gameplay:

This is where the game royally fucks up. Gone are the traditional leveling up mechanics of turn based RPG’s, and now there’s a progression system. It makes sense on paper, and a lot of modern games still use it, to a significantly better degree. To increase your attack, you hit things more, to increase magic, you use more magic. So on and so forth.

The problem here, is that the execution of this mechanic just doesn’t work in an old school RPG. It also makes it tedious as all hell. The game wants you to grind like other RPG’s at the time, so you have to sit there and grind EVERYTHING.

Going through all the random encounters in the overworld, your attack will be the first thing to go up. This initially seems fine, as you can start one-shotting all of the enemies on the field, that is, until you get to a dungeon. Well these enemies are much stronger and take several more hits. Well since you’ve been one-shotting enemies until now, your defense is shit, as is the amount of HP you have. Well now you’re royally fucked.

Well how do you level up your defense and HP without going to an inn after every battle? Easy, by beating the shit out of yourselves. One of the most infamous mechanics in this game, is that the fastest way to level up your HP and defense, is by attacking your own party members. The developers put this mechanic in to wake up sleeping party members, but players soon realized that this is the fastest way to level up those stats. So now instead of actually fighting the enemies in the overworld, you spend your time beating the shit out of yourselves, and healing.

Now is a good time to talk about magic in this game, and it sucks. Just like your levels, you level up your spells. Well this game decided that it wanted to be even more tedious, by having each spell have its own separate levels. All your spells start at level 1, and if you want them to not be shit, you have to grind them to at least level 5. Even then, the spells do shit damage. Your regular attacks will do hundreds of damage, but spells, even at level 5 do about 30-50 at most. I just got tired of leveling up my spells because of how much time you spend grinding each spell.

To level up a spell, you have to cast it a bunch. How much you ask? 100 times. So when you get a spell like Ultima and Flare near the end of the game, you have to cast both about 500 times each, and they still only do about 100 damage at most. Luckily like your HP and defense, this is easily exploitable. Due to a glitch in the game, all you have to do is select a spell, then a target, then cancel it. This counts as casting the spell, so if you want to waste time, you can do this about 100 times in a single battle, and your spell will level up. Hurray!

So now your spells are leveled up, but now that they’re leveled up, they take more MP, so now your MP levels are shit. Well with luck doing the exploit, your MP will increase, so after leveling up multiple spells, just cross your fingers that you now have enough MP to cast heal enough times.

One thing you should keep in mind, is that you can never escape a battle. To escape a battle, you luck and evade stats need to level up. Though don’t expect this to level up at all, as this is all based on luck, and it randomly appears. So even by the end of the game, your evade and luck will be obnoxiously low, so you will have to fight every single battle.

This wouldn’t be too bad, if this game didn’t have a ridiculous random encounter rate. I’m not sure if this was fixed in later versions of the game, but in the NES and PS1 version, you can get an encounter with only about 2-10 steps. This is exacerbated when many dungeons have multiple doors that lead you to an empty room. Thanks for wasting my time. It doesn’t help when you enter these empty rooms, you’re teleported to the middle, and you’re guaranteed a battle before you get to the door to leave. I’d recommend using a map to not waste your time.

Then there’s the final fight with the Emperor. Your attacks and defense are high enough to one-shot every enemy in the final dungeon, but once you face the Emperor, you only do 50-100 damage, because his defense is incredibly high. If you have the blood sword, it drains 1/16th of his health, and does a lot better than your other weapons. Just hope you didn’t get rid of it based on your limited inventory space, and it being weaker than the other weapons you’ve obtained. Luckily your defenses are really high, so he also does pretty piss poor damage to you. For me it was just an endurance run, that lasted an entire hour, and after all of my MP was finally drained, he died. Holy fuck was that a schlog.

One feature of the game that’s added, is that you have a rotating fourth member in your party. This isn’t exactly unusual in Final Fantasy games, but I really wished that most of your extra party members weren’t useless. Outside of Minwu, they’re all weak. So now you’re stuck leveling up those characters that are rotated in and out of your party. How much does this game want you to grind?

Music and visuals:

Not much needs to be restated, as nothing has really changed since the old review.

Verdict:

This game is more of a chore than an actual game. Unless you really really really love grinding. Trying to play this game legitimately is not recommended in the slightest. It’s not good game design where you’re pretty much required to abuse exploits in the game. Playing this legitimately would have all your characters incredibly lopsided. I have no idea who thought it was a good idea to have you cast spells multiple times in a legitimate fashion to have it level up to a normal level? Are the spells that significantly weak to compensate for how many times it has to be casted to level up? Why Square why?

This game really only exists for curiosity’s sake, so only play it if you want to see where many of the Final Fantasy tropes got started.

Dragon Quest VII Remake – First Impressions

About a year ago, I reviewed the original Dragon Quest VII, and is a game I quite enjoy. It’s a game that’s infamous for its length, though apparently a game very few people have actually seen the end of. It’s a game that’s fairly difficult for keeping people’s attention to the very end. The game also takes a really long time for you to level up, while it does artificially inflate the time, it’s still a really long game regardless.

15 years later, I finally get my hands on what I hope is the definitive version of the game. The graphics in the original were a bit dated for being a late release on the original Playstation. The remake looks very good. It’s nice seeing the characters moving their mouths when they’re talking, including the NPC’s. While the music isn’t orchestrated, the midi soundtrack sounds pretty good so far.

What might be a drawback for those who loved the inaccessible aspects of the original games, would be how aspects of the game feel a bit streamlined and toned down. A lot of the beginning was cut out to get you to the action a lot faster. In the original game, it was a good two hours or more to go through the beginning dungeon, and you finally get to your first battle. In the remake, I was 90 mins in, and already on level 5. What this also means, is that leveling up doesn’t seem to take as long, well so far at least.

The beginning of the original game did do a good job at making you curious at the mystery in that shrine, it does seem odd to have a scavenger hunt to get you to the dungeon, and an even longer time going through a lengthy dungeon with lots of puzzle solving. Most RPG’s try to get you to the action in the beginning to introduce you to the battle system, which is what you’ll be dealing with a majority of the time. The original game? Nah wait 3 hours.

One aspect of the remake that I feel makes things less annoying, is the tracker for the shards. In the game, you collect shards to unlock pedestals to access further places in the game. The original game had you search every nook and cranny in the hopes to find them. The remake makes that a lot easier, there’s an indicator that flashes one is nearby. I’m sure somebody out there enjoyed that the original game had you search high and low for them, but honestly, it makes it annoying to backtrack in the hopes of finding a shard. This is one of those cases where making it easier is a lot helpful.

The remake of the game so far is very promising, and honestly, I’m not sure how they could really mess it up. ArtePiazza’s remakes of other Dragon Quest games are very faithful and very good remakes, so there shouldn’t be any way they could ruin this remake.

Dragon Quest – Review

The grandfather of all JRPG’s, Dragon Quest is probably the most important RPG that will be mentioned in this blog. While not the first console RPG, it’s definitely the one that set the template for every JRPG to follow. With its simple menu system, turn based combat, top down view, leveling up, and even equipping items.

Released in Japan in 1986, series creator Yuji Horii wanted to bring role playing video games to a wider audience, as the genre was relegated to PC’s, which was still a niche demographic. The technical limitations of the NES posed a problem, as old PC RPG’s were very complex, and some even required a large book just to play the game. Horii got creative and created a very simple, yet very effective template for the menus, which then became the base standard for many RPG’s to this day.

The game came out three years later in North America (localized as Dragon Warrior due to licensing issues over a similarly named pen and paper RPG). With this version of the game came many differences, most noticeably technical differences. The original Famicom release utilized a password save system, but the NES version introduced a battery save function. Also the graphics were updated, as the player and NPC sprites all faced on direction, the NES version not only improved the quality of the sprites, they also gave them graphics for facing different directions.

Like many other games in the franchise, Dragon Quest was remade several times, and unlike the original Final Fantasy, did not change any of the game mechanics and were really just graphical updates. The game was first remade for the Super Famicom, and was made using Dragon Quest V’s engine, and also contained Dragon Quest II. While it looked and sounded significantly better than the 8-bit original, it doesn’t look as good as later SNES games (especially with later DQ releases like DQ6 and the remake of DQ3), and was really just a souped up NES game. Despite this, it was the best looking version of the game for many years. Sadly this version never left Japan, but English fan translations exist.

Then came the Gameboy Color remake, which also came packaged with Dragon Quest II. While inferior to the SNES version in both graphics and sound, it was still better than the NES version. Luckily this version came to North America, and was probably the best looking way to play the game. This version also sported a quick save, which made things much more convenient, as you could only save by talking to the King in previous versions. Though the quick saves were merely temporary, as loading one deletes the save.

The game was remade yet again for mobile phones in Japan. This update sported significant graphic and sound updates, but was originally never released outside of Japan. Later these games were ported to Android and iOS devices with slightly updated graphics, and touch screen capabilities. This version is definitely the best looking version of the game.

Story:

Many years ago the legendary hero Erdrick (Loto in the Gameboy version) defeated an evil creature and gained the ball of light and restored light to the land. Erdrick handed the ball to the king of Alefgard who held onto it, as it brought peace and prosperity to Alefgard. There was a man who shunned the ball of light, and stole it. He man then met up with a dragon and then tamed it to obey his every command, and the man is later discovered to not only be a dragon himself, but is the Dragonlord. The Dragonlord later became corrupted by learning magic, and then began to wreak havoc across the land of Alefgard. Erdrick returns to defeat the Dragonlord, but is never heard from ever again.

Several years later to the present time, a mysterious warrior appears in Tantegal Castle, and the king tells him that a dragon has appeared and kidnapped Princess Gwaelin, and you are tasked with saving her. Thus your adventure begins.

Gameplay:

The game is a very bare boned and textbook RPG, though it also wrote the textbook for the core template. It plays like every other top down RPG with random encounters. It definitely feels incredibly archaic compared to later JRPG’s (or even later Dragon Quest games), though the genre had to start from somewhere. You play as one character the entire game, and you never gain any party members.

Battles incredibly simple. You fight one on one with every enemy in the game. Compared to later games which introduce strategy in battles using different skills or classes, this game lacks any of that. The only thing one must do to progress through the game, is to just level up. The only way the game slightly deviates from that, is that you can also buy or find better equipment that gives you a better chance in battle.

The game also doesn’t necessarily deviate far from the only two objectives in the game, save the princess, and defeating the Dragonlord. The first half of the game is really just you grinding your ass off to not only get a high enough level to beat the dragon who kidnapped the princess, but also to collect enough money to have the equipment to survive it. The second half slightly deviates from that, with you collecting items that gain you access to the Dragonlord’s castle, but you still spend a large chunk grinding.

Visuals:

Like every Dragon Quest game to follow, characters and monsters are designed by famed Dragonball artist Akira Toriyama. While the NES version does retain that for the monsters, the graphical limitations do hinder it. Though compared to other NES RPG’s, this one looks very comparable. Like mentioned above, the various ports are all graphical enhancements that all look very nice for the platforms they were designed on, which the mobile versions being the best.

Music:

While not having very many audio tracks, the game still has very iconic music, ranging from the series fanfare, to towns and battle music. The game also is the origin of the famous jingles for when you level up and even when the battle ends.

The music is very good, and like every other Dragon Quest game, has its soundtrack performed by a symphony orchestra. Definitely worth a listen.

Verdict:

Dragon Quest is a classic game, but not one that’s very recommendable to a modern audience. While an incredibly important game, it hasn’t necessarily aged well, and is really only there for players who are either hardcore Dragon Quest fans, or just hardcore RPG fanatics. For today’s gamers, it’s definitely worth a play for curiosity’s sake.

Music: 7/10.
Visuals: 7/10.
Story: 5/10.
Content: 5/10.

Conclusion: 6/10

Parasite Eve – Review

Released in 1998, Parasite Eve is a detached sequel to the novel of the same name and is considered by many to be Square’s answer to the Resident Evil series. It does divert from Resident Evil in terms of gameplay mechanics, largely with its  battle system and RPG mechanics as well as random encounters.

Story:

You play as Aya Brea, an officer of the NYPD who is attending an opera. During the play the entire theater starts to spontaneously combust, and you find out an actress by the name of Melissa Pearce is the culprit. Melissa mentions to Aya that her mitochondria is going to awaken and Melissa transforms into a beast. Melissa declares that she is now called a creature named Eve and then escapes to cause trouble around New York City, and Aya declares it her mission to stop her.

Gameplay:

Navigation is very similar to how the Final Fantasy series on the Playstation are, with a three dimensional character interacting with a two dimensional environment made with pre-rendered graphics. Certain parts of the areas you traverse through have “hot spots” where there’s a chance enemies can randomly appear. This engages you into battle mode where you can either clear the area by defeating all of the monsters, or by fleeing.

With the battle system, Square brings back the Active Time Battle System where you have to wait for the action bar to fill to perform an action. Where this game differs from Final Fantasy is that you can run around to dodge enemy attacks while you wait for the ATB bar to fill. The actions limited to the ATB are attacking and using items. Later on in the game, you will gain Parasite Energy, which is this game’s version of magic. Parasite Energy has typical types of spells you see in RPG’s such as healing your health or status ailments, or powerful attacks. When you press the X button when your ATB bar fills, the game pauses and brings up a sphere, this is your attack range. This sadly doesn’t appear in later Parasite Eve games, but does make a return in Vagrant Story, another Squaresoft RPG.

Another aspect of the game is weapon and armor customization. Like most RPG’s throughout the game you’ll find various armor and weapons, but in this game, you can collect tools that can take attributes from previous weapons to power up your equipment, either by adding special effects, or by increasing their effectiveness.

Visuals:

Graphically it’s fairly similar to Final Fantasy VIII, except not as good seeing as it came before. Though for the time this game came out, it’s pretty good for its time. They’re definitely not as blobby as Final Fantasy VII or Wild Arms, and they definitely start looking more and more like actual people. The monster designs are all pretty good, they definitely look the part of typical survivor horror monsters, and some of them definitely look like deranged versions of typical animals. Square definitely knew what they were doing in this department.

The pre-rendered backgrounds are all pretty good. The American arm of the development team did a great job getting the images of New York City in, and you feel like you’re actually there.

Music:

The soundtrack is pretty good, it does have a melancholy horror movie feel to it, probably to add to the horror aspect of the survival horror genre. There’s a lot of bass heavy instruments and ambient elements in the music.

Verdict:

Parasite Eve is a pretty solid game. It’s a nice change of pace from typical Squaresoft RPG’s and combines enough elements of both RPG’s and survival horror to cross fans of both genres. The game can be a challenge at times, but the majority of the game adds enough difficulty to make it fun. Also luckily the game is pretty short for Square standards, taking roughly 8ish hours to beat the main game, it’s definitely not super long to scare off those interested in it compared to other RPG’s with their daunting 30+ hours of gameplay.

Music: 8/10

Visuals: 10/10

Story: 8/10

Content: 8/10

Conclusion: 9/10

Bravely Default – First Impressions

Bravely Default was a game I was hyping for myself for a few years. I was a big fan of Final Fantasy 4 Heroes of Light on the original DS, and when I discovered that they were making a spiritual sequel, I went apeshit. The hype blew up even more for myself when I saw the initial trailers and it looked and sounded amazing. They took the artstyle I loved from the first game and expanded on it, and even the music I loved was even better than before. With all this, how could Square fuck this up?

Years later, the game finally came out and got rave reviews in Japan, which excited me even more, as I usually tend to lean towards their opinion on JRPG’s. Then it finally came out in the West and continued to get rave reviews. Thank God.

This was definitely the first game I bought for the console, and luckily for myself, the game pretty much delivered. It was definitely I enjoyed from 4 Heroes of Light, and it fixed some of my problems from the first game. I can select the enemy I want to damage, and I can select which team member I wanted to heal. 4 Heroes of Light has a pretty bland story, and was all about the adventure, but Bravely Default not only had a good quest, it even has a pretty decent story so far.

This game is pretty much what I wanted from Square, a throwback to the NES Final Fantasies, but with a modern twist. 4 Heroes of Light fulfilled that, but I feel that was a prototype for Bravely Default where they mastered the game. This game definitely is more targeted at RPG fanatics, as it’s definitely grind heavy, which is the main complaint I see from fans of modern RPG’s.

So far I’m definitely enjoying the game, and can’t think of many ways on how the game could end up being fucked up by the end.

Final Fantasy IX – Review

Released in 2000, Final Fantasy was created as a reflection on the Final Fantasy series, and creator Hironobu Sakaguchi claims is also his favorite in the series. After creating two games set in a more futuristic setting, this game was set back in the medieval high fantasy setting from the older games in the franchise. Also the game jettisons the concept of using any character you want and allowing them to learn every spell, and bringing back characters who have fixed classes and characters having a limited number of moves.

Story:

You play as Zidane Tribal, a thief who is a member of bandits from Lindblum called Tantalus who also double as a theater troupe. The game begins with an big event happening in the kingdom of Alexandria where Tantalus is going to perform a play.You then play through a perspective of multiple characters leading up to the actual performance. Later it is revealed that the play is a ruse to kidnap the princes of Alexandria, Princess Garnet. You find out Princess Garnet is willing to be kidnapped, as she is wanting to escape the country to figure out Queen Brahne’s erratic behavior and wishes to go to Lindblum. You then attempt to escape Alexandria and you are attacked by the Alexandrian forces, and the airship you are on crashes into a forest. When you finally reach Lindblum you discover that Brahne is trying to cause a war and the characters become intertwined in world affairs.

Gameplay:

Gameplay for the most part has been unchanged from the previous games. Like mentioned above, the characters are in fixed classes, meaning they can only learn certain abilities, even when you have two characters in the same class. You do learn abilities differently in this game than previous titles. You don’t learn abilities just from leveling up, to learn abilities from your equipment. Each equipment item lets you learn a number of abilities, and when you battle with those items equipped, you gain ability points. Initially you can only use those abilities when you have those items equipped, but when you max out the ability points on an ability, it is now permanent on your character.

Those are the action abilities, meaning they’re pretty much moves in battle like magic and summoning. You can also learn support abilities. Support abilities basically let you learn things like immunity to certain ailments and doing extra damage to certain monster classes. These abilities take up a number of  stones, so you have a limited number of supports to equip, but the higher the level you get, the more you can equip.

Visuals:

Similar to many other Playstation RPG’s (especially from Square), the game uses 3D polygonal characters on pre-rendered backgrounds. Seeing as they mastered the technology by Final Fantasy VIII, there are no issues when it comes to navigating.

The game does have a very steampunk medieval fantasy theme and also very cartoonish style for the game in general. This gives the game a very unique look to it, and caters to the “fantasy” part in Final Fantasy. They throw in a lot of anthropomorphic animals as characters giving it even more of a fairy tale feel.

Music:

The game features a very strong soundtrack, and goes back to the style of music from the older SNES titles. It’s a lot more upbeat compared to the previous PS1 titles.

Verdict:

Final Fantasy IX is a fantastic game, and the more “traditional” out of the Playstation Final Fantasy trilogy. It’s interesting picking up references to previous titles. The strong gameplay, story, and even the artstyle all fall together giving you a fantastic journey.

Music: 8/10

Visuals: 10/10

Story: 8/10

Content: 8/10

Conclusion: 9/10

Dragon Quest VIII Mobile – First Impressions

Ah Dragon Quest VIII, what a fantastic game on the PS2. Many have dreamed of playing this on the go and now their dreams have fulfilled, or would be if it wasn’t on mobile. Does this game hold up against its console brother or is it an abomination, let’s explore this title.

One of the first things you’ll notice is the lack of voice acting. This is one of the biggest complaints in the comments section for the reviews on the iOS market, but it is a bit pathetic to give a game a three star rating with your only complaint being “there’s no voice acting!”. Maybe I should just stop reading reviews on the iOS app store, they’re as bad as Youtube comments… While it is a bit odd not having voices after playing the game for years with voices, it doesn’t take away from the gameplay at all. Hell the Japanese version of the game didn’t have voice acting. Maybe Square thought that Americans couldn’t play a game without voices? So for a bit of purism, this is a closer experience to what the original Japanese audience experienced.

Speaking of closer to what the Japanese experienced, the music is also different, well… sort of. The second biggest complaint you’ll see over this version of the game is that all the music is midi, not performed by an orchestra. Similar to the voice acting, it’s also weird when you’re used to an orchestra. Though unlike the voice acting, if you’re not really paying attention, you’ll probably end up forgetting about it anyway, or you even just get over it. This happens a lot when you get a port or remaster of a game and the ost is arranged a bit different.

Well instead of lollygagging around, let’s talk about the actual gameplay. Unlike the NES trilogy that they ported to mobile, this one can be a bit easier to fuck up when it comes to gameplay. In a top-down 2D game, you have to try to fuck up navigation, when you’re playing a full 3D game, you have to be creative to come up with how to navigate around the world. For the most part, they got it right. It was initially awkward, but after a few minutes of playing around, I got a hang of it.

The game is only played in portrait mode, so you can play the game with one hand. With this, you can’t control both your character and the camera, but for the most part, the camera kind of follows you around, so you really only need it when you’re inside buildings and such. They also found a way to compensate it, you can use the auto-walk button and then use your finger to simultaneously move the camera and steer the character. This is more useful in wide open places, like the overworld, or just large spaces in towns. When you’re walking around inside houses and such, this is where it tends to be awkward.

Regarding menus and UI, so far I haven’t found anything worth complaining about. It looks more compact due to screen real estate. It’s easy to navigate and move things around. Further among the topic of visuals, the game has an HD texture on it. It looks really good for the most part, but sometimes characters and objects sticking out, like buildings or posts/trees etc, look superimposed and stick out too much, it’s like they used a PS2 emulator and weren’t able to get the backgrounds and whatnot to look amazing. Also the cutscenes tend to be a bit grainy. They recycled the video footage from the PS2 game, but probably weren’t able to get it in a higher resolution, so they just blew it up and made it a bit grainy. It’s similar to how you’ll notice picture quality difference on PS1 games when cutscenes happen. The final visual complaint is during battle, the numbers indicating damage look squished. I thought they would just cut off the sides to fit the portrait screen, but I didn’t expect them to squish it together.

All in all, Dragon Quest VIII is pretty good on mobile devices. It feels more comfortable on a phone rather than on a tablet. It seems tablets are better for landscape style rather than portraits. It makes more sense that way, seeing as portrait games seem to be designed to play with one hand. If one has never played DQ8 before, this is not a bad port. Though if you were a fan of the PS2, it might be a tad bit awkward and take a bit of getting used to, but still a great experience.

It’s strange how this is much better than the mobile port of Final Fantasy VI. You’d be worried for the full 3D game rather than a 2D game, but FF6 has more fuckups. Shows that Enix knows what they’re doing in the mobile department more than Square does.