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


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