Monday, February 20, 2006

Regarding Updates

This site is being updated occasionally, as promised. Most recently, two updates to sections 4 and 10. Also, those who like unusual secrets, see here. No help, just something odd.

Apparently, the male allies cannot be set up to go on the date at Gold Saucer. I did everything I could to make it Barrett Wallace, and I wound up with Aeris. But it's fun to see all the unexpected results throughout the game, expecially how the male allies react to the trip in Round Square. And the trick still works for Yuffie and Tifa. Thanks to Artemis and her detailed instructions.

Also coming: a review of Final Fantasy V. My review of Final Fantasy VI is here. While I believe FFVII is the absolute best of the series, VI and V come close. Each FF is enjoyable for its own sake, for its own reasons, although admittedly most are flawed in either theme, tone, gameplay or maybe just execution. (For instance, I found both X and X-2 to be depressing in tone and mechanical in gameplay. One can accidentally finish the darned things, while barely trying. I hate that.)

On the other hand, I don't play online, and probably never will, so that scotches XI. Tactics is still waiting for me to either lose my job, or become totally bedridden (but still able to use my hands!) : it really looks like it deserves my total attention from start to finish.

Anyway, thanks for your interest.

Little Pond

Saturday, February 11, 2006

I know I promised a review of Final Fantasy V

But I am one of those lame-brains who can't keep the new numbering straight. What we have is a review of Final Fantasy IV, originally released as Final Fantasy II. By the way, I will always associate II as being Mystic Quest. I purchased MQ to teach my kids how to play RPG's. They never became addicted to the Final Fantasy series, though. New boyfriends, new buddies, new jobs--all contributed to their tastes evolving out into other gaming circles.

So, without any further blather

Review of Final Fantasy IV

Cecile's quest is reputedly the longest of the series. The saga starts in an over-world, moves from one continent to the next, goes into an incredibly extensive underworld, travels to the moon and back, and then returns to the moon for the final battle against the ultimate boss, Zeromus.

Cecile, a knight with dark powers, begins the quest when he's expelled from his post in a newly corrupt kingdom of Baron. Accompanied by faithful childhood friend, Dragoon Kain, he begins a long adventure to get to the bottom of the king's evil change. His journey will ultimately take him from dark into light.

Every Final Fantasy has a love interest: FFIV's is Rosa, a white sorcerer, who joins forces with them despite Cecile's protests. He also collects Rydia, a child magician with the ability to call monster-allies; the Karate master Yang; Edge, a ninja prince; various other mages, and even a royal bard, all playable characters for limited periods at different points in the story.

The usual magic types can be taken for granted: White is largely defensive and curative; Black includes attacks and status changes. Callers summon supernatural creatures to take a devastating whack at the enemy. Mages often are not as strong as the warriors, and with few exceptions, weapons are specialized to each archetype.

My favorite situation in FFIV would be the magnetic cave, where no one can use metallic weapons. This is essentially a setback. Final Fantasies always include some such challenge; a gamer can also expect to lose an ally or two, here and there, to death, debilitation, or desertion. At least one will never return.

Game play:
Your character moves in all directions on the map, and changes scenery according to your ability to travel. Final Fantasies begin with "shank's mare." Walking moves to some sort of land- or water-going vehicle. In some games, animals are enlisted: most notably the series signature Chocobo, a cute, lively bird ridden like a horse, or more analogously, an ostrich. (Remember Swiss Family Robinson?) Other games feature dragons, which strikes me as a very D&D touch. But FFIV features Cid, and as in many other Final Fantasies, he's an engineer, making airships ubiquitous and the conveyance of choice. So no surprise there. But FFIV's ultimate vehicle is the Big Whale, acquired quite late in the game.

Battles are turn-oriented. Everyone gets a shot, so it's important to plan ahead. Sometimes a character or enemy has a status change that will either allow extra turns, or skip turns entirely. This is actually a strategy that can be used and must be guarded against in any battle. Both magic and items can effect these changes and they increase the challenge of any battle. Some items are as good or better than magic. The best items cannot be bought.

FFIV weapons, roles, and magic go according to the character's class. For instance, Cecil is a dark knight, and cannot use restorative magic. Rosa is a white mage, and cannot carry a sword. Karate master Kang exclusively uses claws, some of which have magical effects. And Edward actually battles with his harp. God, I love this game!

Originally released in America as Final Fantasy II, Square first featured Cecil and the gang on Super Nintendo. Blocky pixies and insanely bright colors were the hallmark of the Golden Age of Super Nintendo. One can either be enchanted or incredibly irked by such details, especially wooden, heavy-looking airships and the incessant marching-in-place of otherwise stationary people in towns and buildings.

Note: the absolutely hilariously incorrect grammar and wordings that made the early games endearing are gone from the Playstation remakes. Just a very few stilted phrases are left to remind us of our Japanese benefactors.

Watch for theme melodies that correspond to characters and situations. The music is tinny and fun, if very repetitive. But these quibbles apply to every game from the Golden Age and earlier. They are what make these little dinosaurs such gems, wonderful relicts of a bygone time that we can call up at will on our consoles. The latest advances make them seem all the more precious, in every sense of the word. Even as I type, I am using my remote game controller to check on details. And I'm itching to play it all over again. But I have promises to keep…

Side quests:
No spoilers here. My favorite is the Frying Pan. Also, be on the lookout for the Rat's Tail. And please tell me if you manage to achieve the Pink Tail. I've been playing this game since its initial release Stateside. Never even seen the Pink Puff, let alone defeat the darned thing. And yes, I've tried every trick in the book, or rather, on the Internet, literally playing for many hours at a time. Way too much effort has been expended in the quest for the Pink Puff by this old lady!

Final Footnote:
This was the Final Fantasy that most caught my children's interest. They would play out the parts with their friends, calling each other Cecil, Kain, Edge, etc. My youngest was even Rydia one Halloween, complete with green sparkle in her hair and glittery makeup.

Oh, well. When geeks grow old, it isn't pretty.

Little Pond

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Final Fantasy VII can be played without Materia!!!

No sweat. In fact, materia actually hampers your progress when you use it. The Two-Edged Sword sort of thing.

I saw a lovely graphic of the Nail Bat on the Internet captioned "Materia Slots are for Wusses!" This was a revelation, and an inspiration. I began the experiment forthwith.

Actually, it is so easy to play without materia, that I finished the game in record time (for me) while still enjoying all the side quests that did not involve materia. And there were a few surprises, too. It is not all straight forward.

If you want to contribute, just comment. I may check your suggestion and post it separately, with attribution. And a link, if you have a site. Be advised that I will delete any abusive comments. This is my site, and I can do what I want.

Cloud starts with materia. There is no remedy for this. But back at Tifa's 7th Heaven in the Sector 7 Slums, Barrett asks for help with the materia. After this, you can remove them at will. Watch the stats as you do this, and you will understand why materia is not always a good thing. Then they can be sold (usually for 1GP) or deleted.

You will need items to make up for the lack of magic. Some battles rely on magic. But plenty of items are merely magic in item form. Dazers, for example, are a wonderful thing.

Points to consider:

1--With no materia, there is no need to waste time stealing, mugging or morphing. You don't need all that stuff. There's more time to enjoy watching the fights themselves. I never paid much attention to how the various weapons looked, even though I knew they were all different, and that some even deviated from the norm for the character: Barrett especially has some very esoteric devices, and the corresponding moves!

2--With no materia to buy, you will have tons of money for weapons, items, or even that stupid little chalet on Gold Coast. Actually I found that I didn't need the chalet, after all. I just built up plenty of items from level-up battles.

Don't go crazy with the armor, either. With no magic, your limit breaks are all important in the boss battles. Just keep plenty of restorative items and be a little patient in battles. Some battles become routine, while others become rather scary. Especially where an enemy has an instant kill skill.

3--Since materia affects all your characters' stats, you will immediately notice that your characters are much stronger than they would be with materia.

4--Unfortunately, if you love your little chocobos, you will miss them greatly. No materia, no chocobo. For you chocobo fans, it may be necessary to make an exception with Chocobo Lure. I made no exception.

If you simply cannot part with your chocobos, maybe you would be interested in the Chocobo Manifesto. Of course a real "chocobo-head" already know this one!

And no chocobo means the Ancient Forest will have to wait until the death of Ultima Weapon. Since Cloud's Ultima Weapon is dropped during that battle, the Apocalypse will already be superceded. However, the Minerva is a nice piece of armor and well worth the trip.

One special note regarding those Rilfsacs that are nearly impossible to hit: Bring lots of magic items, or better yet, equip your characters with weapons whose attack is 255 (Tifa's God's Hand and Vincent's Sniper or Long Barrel) and have at them. The rest of the enemies are wusses by the time you reach the Forest. This is an excellent place to level up, if you need it, or to achieve the higher limit levels before the North Crater.

5--No materia means no summoning. Most battles move faster this way. Since some side quests involve summons materia, this may eliminate them. Condor fort's ultimate prize is materia, but other prizes are awarded from battle to battle. Seems rather random, but you can count on two decent weapons and a high level item or two.

6--Almost anything that "requires" materia to move ahead in the game can be replaced by leveling up, or learning the trick built in by SquareSoft. The first example I found was crossing the swamp to the Mithril Mine. You don't need a chocobo. The Zolom will knock out a character during battle. After it wipes out the remainder with Beta magic, one character keeps the group going, giving you a chance to run to the mine side of the swamp, usually unchallenged.

Some enemies have a magic side and a power side. Go after the power side first. For instance, Ying-Yang in the Shinra mansion seems nearly impossible to kill unless you go after Yang with your weapons. The default will usually be Ying, and Ying takes very little damage from most hits. Keep selecting until you are sure to hit Yang. Lost Number is the hidden boss behind the safe door in the Shinra mansion, and it also has a magic-sensitive side. Ignore it and fight exclusively with hits. Keep at least one person for healing and reviving. Set all limit breaks to the first level and the fight is a snap. Don't be afraid to use higher level items in any boss fight, as there will be plenty of opportunity to restock before the next boss.

And don't get stuck just on higher limit breaks, either. They may be less helpful than a lesser break, especially when magic is really the ticket. Diamond Weapon is another boss requiring magic. Items are perfect, right? No, because even high level items won't take many hit points. And many limit breaks are totally wasted. One notable exception would be Vincent's Death Gigas. The LiveWire attack works like Super-Bolt. And it's being used continuously, without waiting to fill the limit meter again.

7--Some parts were a surprise, as I said above. The arena battles seemed impossible before leveling up to over 70. After that, they went so fast, it was a disappointment. It was actually no fun, it was so easy. I went back and tried again at lower levels, say about 38 to 45, and they are much more exciting. With Xpotions from Wutai, and an emphasis on items and limit breaks, they are doable, indeed.

When Cloud is invited to fight in the arena in exchange for the Keystone, winning or losing doesn't affect the outcome of the game. In fact, Dio will award two accessories for success, but the ones I got I already had.

8--Because the stats rise with the Ultimate Weapons, don't be in a hurry to get them. I did hurry, and found that the challenges of the North Crater were greatly reduced. At that point, leveling up was unnecessary.

9--The final battle is easy with no materia, although it may take longer. I once accidentally went into the end battle with no magic, and wound up throwing money to win the battle. Even money is unnecessary with no materia. Once again, there is more leisure to enjoy the ongoing show of the final battle.

10--Occasionally this no-materia thing backfires. Barrett's Missing Score dropped his attack down to next to nothing, his stats changed to favor magic and killed several points off his strength. Unacceptable, and with no materia, even leveling up wasn't much help. Vincent lost some power, also. I am still experimenting with his. On the upside, Yuffie's attack took 9999 points each time, as did Cloud's. Watch all your stats carefully.

And last, I have not yet fought the American Weapons without materia. The Emerald weapon without the Underwater Materia.... Seems impossible. And I am used to Final Attack for the fight with Ruby weapon.

I'll be adding to this site again, filling in the details as I replay over the next few weeks in the North Crater.

Little Pond