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Final Fantasy Challenge: Final Fantasy XII the Zodiac Age Part 2: He shall defy the will of the gods, and see the reigns of history in the hands of man

I was originally going to go with a Basch quote about bearing any shame if it meant he could save even one person from the horrors of war, but I really feel like this quote from Judge Bergan, one of the few actual bit players in the game, fits this point in the game better.  I’m about at the halfway point, on my way to Archades, and I’ve reached about the most heart-rending part of the game, where Bergan tears through the refugee camp at Mt. Bur-Omisace all for the purpose of striking against the gods.

That quote up there is sort of the major theme of the game.  I’m not going to get too much into spoilers, but this is the Final Fantasy I’ve played more than most, so I know what he’s talking about and while I don’t want to give anything away, his quest is sort of noble.  It’s interesting, though, to see the lengths to which Vayne, through people like Bergan and Cid, are willing to go through to succeed at a goal that may be noble, but their methods are just brutal.  If the gods are as bad as they’re saying they are, is murdering the clergy that serves them and burning the refugees they’re trying to help actually doing anything about it?


Copyright Square Enix

One of the major themes of this game is power and its use.  Remember, the back story of this game is pretty much “what if King Arthur actually had nukes?” so the bad guys having a potentially noble goal, but are willing to murder innocent people who are just tangentially, if unwittingly, opposed to that goal is something that this game is going to explore.  The first time I played this game, it seemed like a pretty cruel thing for the empire to do, and it was carried out by this actual crazy person.  It’s a great scene, because it’s a scene that shows what Empire, or at least Vayne, is capable of, but it’s also so full of foreshadowing and really lays out the themes of the game.

Everything about this game explores power, and it ties in with the game.  The Espers I have to get are the same Lucavi demons from Final Fantasy Tactics (literally the same, Tactics takes place in the, or possibly an alternate, future), and their story, too, is similar to that of mine.  At the same time, the MacGuffin in this game are also literal magical nukes, that may or may not be made out of the souls of the dead.   To have one of the bad guy show up and exposit about it makes for a great scene, and it underscores what makes this game so damn good.

So, I’m about halfway or so though the game.  I’m on my way to Archades, and I’m going to take a break from the story to take out a few of the Elite Marks and do some sidequests.  I said before that I’m worried about playing VII and VIII because of how all of the sidequests introduce some sort of minigame (or a terrible trading card game), but I’m really glad that this game just has me use the mechanics of the game.  Mostly all I need to do is talk to a guy and get a quest, which has me fight some kick ass monster.  I guess it’s a little limited, and I know that’s why the Playstation era games decided to add those minigames, but it’s refreshing to not have to learn a completely different set of mechanics just because of one damn fight.

There are a few gimmick fights in this.  I fought some magnet monster (who I forgot to steal from again!)  that was a little weird, but it was just a cool mechanic.  It helped I wasn’t wearing a shit ton of heavy armor, so the magnet abilities, which would put a Slow-like mechanic on a guy wearing Heavy Armor, didn’t have a huge impact on me, but the fight was still challenging enough that it kind of pushed me.  It’s not as punishing as the original, and I like that, but it still requires me to work hard at the game and try to do my best.

I’ve also managed to reach a point in the game where I have two license boards, and I’m starting to get Epsers and level three Quickenings, which actually have an impact on what abilities I can get.  So, for example, because I gave Basch the Esper Mateus, he was able to get some high end White Magic, that he wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise.  The way the dual license board system works, along with the unique Espers and Quickenings, is actually pretty cool because it means my build still has a bit of differences, even with the pre-defined classes.

I’m enjoying the game more than I’ve ever enjoyed it.  The Zodiac Age is much, much improved over the original.  I had some serious gameplay issues with the original, but overlooked them because I love the stories and characters, as well as the themes it explores and the gorgeous art direction.  Now, it’s actually even more fun to play, because it smoothes over a lot of the rough edges.  Elder Wyrm was still a huge pain in the ass, with its goddamn Treant adds and Sporefall ability.  I maintain it’s the hardest boss of the main campaign because of where it is, but I’m glad I made it through on my first try, rather than having to smash my head against the wall and grind and grind and grind to make sure I have enough experience to beat him through attrition.  Thanks to the revised mechanics, I felt I was able to win more through strategy, and then shifting tactics during the battle, than just having more hitpoints and spells than he had times to hit me in the face with his fucking Sporefall.


Final Fantasy Challenge: Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age part 1 Don’t Believe Ondore’s Lies

Seriously, don’t.  Because that man is a master of manipulation.  I had never really considered how good he was at manipulating the events of the game to his, and to Dalmasca’s, benefit.  There are characters who attempt to play both sides, to do the whole “magnificent bastard” archetype, and too often we get characters like Senator Palaptine in the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy who can just do stuff because they know the future or they’re just so, so smart, they can predict anything.  Bean from the Ender books and Light from Death Note are similar.  I actually really dislike characters like that because their manipulations come across more as plot contrivances than the character actually being manipulative.  Marquis Halim Ondore feels legitimate in his ability to play all sides.

As a player, it’s hard to actually read where his loyalties lie.  This is my third time through, and even though I haven’t played the game in almost 10 years (Jesus, I thought i loved this game), I know which side he’s on.  I also know that at the point I’m at, having finally gotten my full party, I also know that he’s going to come across as shady for most of the game.  Having Basch pull out his sword while in his office, so they get arrested by Ghis, who has both Ashe and Penelo, was a masterstroke.  What’s cool is that this easily could have been a plot contrivance, but the game makes a point of establishing Ondore as already knowing what is going on.  He knew where Ashe was, and he picked up on the girl Larsa brought with him is important to the kid Basch and the sky pirate brought with them, so he manages to kill two birds with one stone.


Copyright Square Enix

So, why am I talking so much about Ondore?  Because Ondore is an example of how this game does good by all of its characters.  Vaan is probably the least liked character, and he does fall into a trap that a lot of anime and video game characters of that era were falling into, but in a lot of ways, his characterization is more of a commentary on that sort of anime/shonen hero rather than an embrace of it.  I notice he’s not too dissimilar from Edward Elric in that regard, in that they’re both brash, naive and a bit selfish.  Both of them, too, are kind and heroic and are interested in using their skills to help people, yes, but the first three traits are what we see for both of them right at the beginning, and they are personality traits that the work they appear in portray as downsides.  Compare to someone like Naruto (or any of the heroes in that story), their brashness, naivete and general selfishness is not rewarded and gets them, and their friends in trouble just as much.

Vaan causes tons of issues for Balthier and Basch early on, but neither of them are going to take any of his shit.  Vaan’s characterization makes him a pretty typical teenage protagonist, but the way the characters treat him and his antics show that they aren’t going to let him be a dipshit the whole game, and that’s what makes this game great.  It also helps that the characters have tons of foils both in and out of the party.  Consider Larsa, who is also naive, but his primary character trait is that he’s kind.  He expects Vayne will treat the people of Dalmasca as Vayne treated him, with kindness and respect.  There’s also some evidence to suggest that Vayne’s murder of their two older brothers was to protect Larsa from some sort of mortal danger, although the game doesn’t elaborate on it.  Anyway, because Vayne was kind to him, Larsa expects Vayne will be kind to the people of Dalmasca.  He’s 12, and it’s easy to see why a 12-year-old would think this.  He manages to be a great foil to Vaan, since Vaan’s naivete is based on something else, but more importantly, both use the story as a means to grow up and become better people, and better leaders.

I’m marching through the game at a decent pace.  This version of the game is much easier than the PS2 version, and that’s a compliment.  Too much of the difficulty in the original version of the game is because it was built with XI in mind, a game that is so insanely difficult, it’s hard to believe it was considered an easy MMORPG when it came out.  The Zodiac Age does a better job of balancing out the HP and damage of both the enemies and the PCs, making the game feel much smoother.  That doesn’t mean the game is without challenge, Judge Ghis nearly killed Balthier a bunch of times, and was only saved by a quick use of a Reflectaga mote right at the end of the fight.

The new licence board is also so much better.  Not only do the classes give each character an identity, the licences are actually better spread out, and it’s much, much easier to plan out a character.  Once I got Ashe on my team and made her a Foebreaker, I was able to get her up to tank status right away, and build her out in such a way that that I knew what I could grab over the next few levels.  I really like that most of their equipment or spells are nearby, meaning the player can focus on getting the stuff that is relevant to their class pretty easily, while the more complex or esoteric stuff comes later.  For instance, all of the White, Black and Green magick available to a Red Battlemage is all very close, but the Greatswords are further down the equipment list, closer to when the characters will be able to actually purchase that level of greatsword.

I still dislike the weird “k” they’ve added to everything.  Magick, Technicks, etc.  It’s dumb looking.  On the other hand, it’s a lot easier to get Techniques now, too, because they were in some weird places on the original licence board, and now they’re properly distributed into the different classes in such a way that they’re easy to grab, as a means to better flesh out the class.

Currently, my team is as follows: Vaan: Monk, Balthier: White Mage, Fran: Red Battlemage, Basch: Knight, Ashe: Foebreaker and Penelo: Time Battlemage.  Once I get Licence Board +, I’ll add Shikari To Vaan, Machinst to Balthier, Archer to Fran, Ulhan to Basch, Bushi to Ashe and Black Mage to Penelo.  I’m thinking I should have given her Black Mage first, then moved into Time Battlemage, but too late.

Final Fantasy Challenge Changing All of The Rules

So, I decided the worst thing to do was to follow my original plan and play through all of the Final Fantasy games all at once.  Actually, looking over my original plans and rules for this playthrough, I found that I wasn’t going to actually enjoy this.  I was looking at this like work, instead of a fun thing I can use to write about one of my favorite video game series.  So, I decided to drop all of my rules and play all of the games in whatever order I wanted to.  That order was to play all of the ones I haven’t played, but I wanted to start with XII.


Copyright Square Enix

Longtime readers know that XII is my favorite Final Fantasy game.  It’s a close fight between it and VI, mostly because both have a lot of things I like in my RPGs.  A large cast of PCs that each feel like the main character of their own story, a villain, or collection of villains, that feel real and have real motivations, tons of magitech (that’s apparently a thing for me) and a focus on a spanning political epic that effects the lives of king and commoner alike.  XII gets the nod mostly because of the sweet airships, and a kickass art book I got when I bought the strategy guide 12 years ago.  I got it for free.  I dressed up like a Black Mage for a costume contest and won by default.

Already, the Zodiac Age manages to make things better right at the very beginning.  Obviously the graphics have been touched up, but not by a whole lot.  Final Fantasy XII pushed the Playstation 2 to its limit back in the day, and it had really great art direction.  The opening mission with Reks and Basch looks great, and I forgot how good of an intro it really is.  It comes after nearly five minutes of gorgeous cutscenes that set the stage for the game, so I always remembered it being a bit slow, but the game does a good job of teaching how things work.  Plus, it does themeing really well by teaching the player about what they will be able to become by having Basch use his Fulminating Darkness on the boss.  It’s not quite on the level of Zero blasting off the arm of Vile’s mech in one charge shot, but you know, it’s going to be hard to match up to the first level of Mega Man X, the best first level of any game in the world.

The first thing I noticed is that the voice acting no longer sounds like it was recorded in a can.  The weird, mono-esque echo that plagues the original Playstation 2 version is gone.  All of the voices sound crisp and clear, and it’s surprising how good the voice acting is.  The game uses a sort of antiquated, semi-Shakespearean vocabulary and it would be easy to stumble over the words, especially since so much of this was recorded in late 2005, and wasn’t redone for the remake.  However, they all do a really good job of acting.  This shouldn’t be a thing I have to say, but 12 years ago, “video game voice acting” was kind of a joke, and if it was a Japanese game, that went double.  Hell, even Final Fantasy had difficulty with this, as even professional voice actors had difficulty with X (although not as much as expected) and XIII is such a shit show in so many ways, it shouldn’t be surprising that the voice acting is also bad.  Here, though, it’s great.  They have serious cartoon actors (John DiMaggio, Keith James Ferguson, Phil LaMarr, among many others) and the less well known actors all seem to have stage acting experience, which helps with the awkward phrasing and old-timey sort of talking.

So far, I’ve only completed the first parts with Vaan.  I’m going to try power leveling at the beginning to avoid some of the more unpleasant aspects of the midgame, but the reviews say the difficulty curve is much less shitty, and it’s easier to get both money and license points.  The job system apparently helps with that.  I’m using a guide for my job choices, since I’m tired and have a lot going on at work, and it’s apparently suboptimal (like keeping a gun in Balthier’s hands), but I’d rather have a bit of fun with this playthrough than make it work.  After all, this is about experiencing games I didn’t get to grow up with, but always did.  This is about as close to nostalgia as I can get, and I’m ready for it.  Time to beat myself up so an undead monster shows up and I can chain kill it for power leveling!  This is actually less lame than it sounds.

Edit: After a week of playing Final Fantasy XII, I’ve decided to take this out of the Final Fantasy XII playthrough section and make its own thing to stand alone.  My thoughts on XII have evolved and I have different things to say on the subject, so I’m keeping this here as a statement that I’m not going to follow the original rules that I laid out, and have decided to approach specific write ups from a different perspective.

Basically, I put a lot of stupid pressure on myself for no reason, and I’m going to ignore all of it because I hate it and want to do things my way.


The Final Fantasy Challenge


Copyright Square Enix

So, about three and a half years ago, in the lead up to the release of Metal Gear Solid V, I decided to play through every single Metal Gear Solid game.  I had never really been a fan, kind of on the periphery of the fandom, but I was familiar enough with the characters and the story.  When I played Metal Gear Rising: Revengence, though, I decided I really wanted to play all of the games, and the release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes felt like as good a time as any.  I managed to make it thorough, although it took over a year and I didn’t play Peacewalker.  I didn’t have any plans to play Peacewalker, although I might give it a shot when I’ve got some time.

I won’t have time to do it soon, though, because I’ve decided I’m going to do the same thing, only with every single Final Fantasy game (except XI).  Unlike Metal Gear Solid, I’ve been a huge Final Fantasy fan since I was 11, and I’ve actually played pretty much every game in the series, except for V and XI.  However, I haven’t finished every game in the series, and that’s something I want to rectify, so over the past month, I made a point of getting a hold of every single Final Fantasy game in the main series so I can play through them over the course of the next year.  Or two.  This might take me a while.

Now, while I’m calling the game a “challenge,” the rules are fairly simple.  I just have to play and beat all of the games in the series.  I don’t have a time limit or anything, nor am I imposing any particular difficulties on me.  I just couldn’t think of a better name.  The idea is to get my thoughts on this long running series, so I’ll be blogging about what I think after I finish each game in the series.  I won’t be doing updates multiple times through each game like I did with Metal Gear Solid, since I actually have played most of these before.  This is half reexamining nostalgia, half trying to get through a giant backlog of a series I’ve always wanted to be a better fan of.

The idea came because I’ve had IX for years, but I haven’t ever finished it, or gotten very far into the game.  I loved what I played, but it was sort of a game I never had a reason to get into.  Part of it was time, part of it was incentive, but the point was, I wanted to play the game and I needed to give myself a reason.  Then, I realized there were a bunch of games in the series I never got through, and I thought “can I really call myself a fan?” and figured what the Hell, I’ll go through them again.  Plus, there were a few games I never gave a fair shake to, and people tell me I need to give a second chance.  Also, that copy of the Zodiac Age is sitting on my shelf, taunting me.

There are a few rules.  First, I have to play through the whole game, at least the main story, before I move on to the next, and I have to play them in release order.  That means I can’t play XII until I’ve completed everything through X first.  I don’t, however, need to burn through every side quest or extra scene in order to get the experience, but it is highly encouraged considering how much easier some of the end game sidequests are.  Second, I I’m only sticking to mainline games, except for XI.  There’s no reasonable way for me to play XI, so trying to write about it in a timely fashion before I can move on to XII, XIII and the later games is pointless.  Also, it’s an MMORPG from an era that is before me, so I don’t think I can appreciate it.  I also won’t be writing about XIV.  I am playing XIV, but I’m discounting it from the collection.  I may talk about it in supplemental material, where I talk about Tactics, Tactics Advance and a few other games in the series, but it won’t be part of the series either.  Third, I will definitely use a guide and I might even cheat.  Some of these games, I have beaten before and I’m more curious to see if they hold up.  I’m also not willing to deal with grinding.  If I can dump a shit ton of levels onto me, I might do that.  On the other hand, if I enjoy the game enough, I might just do it anyway.  I do know I’m not going to sit there using Draw over and over again for VIII, because that’s bullshit.  I’m also totally using New Game Plus for XV, because holy shit I would like to Platinum that game.  Finally, in the end, I’m going to give my ranking for all of the games in the series.

Personally, I think it’ll look like this: XII, VI, IX, XV, VII, IV, V, I, VIII, III, X, II, XIII.  I do know that XIII will end up in the bottom.  That game sucks so much.


Ending Talk: Final Fantasy XV

Now that it’s officially July, the requisite six months have passed since Final Fantasy XV’s release that I’m willing to discuss spoilers of the game freely.  I know a lot of people haven’t had a chance to play or finish the game, since 2016 and 2017 have been packed to the absolute brim with great game, and that kick ass train doesn’t appear to be stopping any time soon.  So, I will be writing about a lot of very big spoilers about everything regarding this game, other than the DLC (since I haven’t played it, and Ignis’s isn’t out yet) and this is a warning.  That said, I’m not going to get into spoilers until I put the big game cover up as an intro picture, so keep that in mind.

Now, over time, I think a few people have cooled on their approval of the game, and I can definitely see why.  Still, it was a miracle the game came out, and the fact that it was actually as good as it was, and it’s actually pretty good, that’s saying something.  Still, that ending did a lot of damage, and in a lot of different ways, so we’re going to spend the next several hundred words talking about that.  Okay, this is the last warning, unmarked spoilers like crazy coming up.


Copyright Square Enix

So, Final Fantasy XV is pretty fun up until about Chapter 13.  Prompto has been knocked off of the train that the boys spend the last main chunk of the game in, and while Noctis and Gladiolus aren’t at each others throats any more, there is still a lot of tension.  It’s a shame that the Niflheim stuff isn’t open world like the Lucis stuff is, because it’s clear that all of that stuff is already made, it’s just the quests don’t work, and the map apparently isn’t done.  People glitch on to it, and there are places to drive, but there isn’t anything great.

Chapter 13, however, turns into one long, slow ass dungeon crawl, which sees the Regalia destroyed (cool), Noctis fight through a really long, solo dungeon that attempts way too many jump scares (lame) and Ignis and Gladiolus just vanish.  They apparently do their own thing, which isn’t that much cooler, but it does allow the player to skip some of the bullshit.  Then it ends with a long boss fight, some revelations, and Noctis vanishing into a crystal.  In the crystal, Bahamut tells him that he has to die to stop the Starscourge, that the Empire of Niflheim has been consumed by the Starscourge and that Ardyn is telling the truth.  Ardyn, before Noctis drops into the crystal, reveals that he’s actually related, distantly, to Noctis, and it sets up the final battle.  It also completely tears the game apart.

First, after building the Emperor up as this ruthless, unyielding bastard becomes, and I’m serious about this, a random boss fight that harries the party after they all meet up for a bit.  Seriously, he’s a boss fight that pretends to be a random enemy for a few bits of the dungeon, but is actually really tough.  It’s dumb.  Plus, thanks to the Starscourge and the daemons (along with Ardyn’s machinations) Niflheim completely falls apart and the people who had been the bad guys literally up until this moment just vanish.  It’s not the worst time that has happened (wait, Golbez is actually Cecil’s brother and we have to go to the moon and get the moon crystals, because this game is too short.  Actually, that’s not the worst, and in context, it’s kind of cool), but it’s still pretty dumb.  One of the reasons XII works so well is that the Archades Empire remains a credible threat throughout, and that since they are the bad guys.  Venat doesn’t just kill of Cidolfus or Vayne and declare himself the big bad or anything.  Hell, Vayne going rogue and merging with Venat is basically their suicide charge, since they’ve already lost and want to make sure no one wins.  It’s cool and it’s effective, and while XV does have the player follow along with Ardyn much more than with the Emperor, the game sets Ardyn up to be the Emperor’s emissary.

Sure, Ardyn is supposed to be like Kefka, and he usurps the Emperor, and that’s totally fine, but the rest of Niflheim just falls apart.  Kefka at least kills Vector when he destroys the entire World of Balance, and we, the players see all of that happen.  Ardyn and the Starscourge just basically causes the empire to fall apart before we even arrive in the city.  Worse, the whole game is sort of set up, until around Chapter 13 to be a means of taking down Niflheim.  All four of the boys have a personal stake in doing so, and while the Starsourge is cool, it’s more of a setting back drop.  It’s not important until more than halfway through the game, when Lunafreya gets offed, and it’s barely mentioned as anything before Chapter 9 as anything besides the source of the world’s monsters.  It would be if the moon in VIII suddenly became the bad guy and the source of every problem in the game, and killed Ultimecia.  Or something.  Maybe that did happen.  VIII is a weird ass game.

Anyway, most of that are just quibbles.  The real problem is the rest of the game.  Chapter 14 has Noctis wake up 10 years later, where the sun hasn’t risen since his trip into the crystal, and while it does give one great scene right before the final battle, which is one of my favorite Final Fantasy moments ever (seriously, it made me cry), it also runs into so many problems.  First, of course, it stretches suspension of disbelief, since a decade without sunlight is insane.  Especially since the sun prevents monsters from just crawling out of the ground, and the monsters we see in the World of Ruin are fucking powerful as Hell.  Level 60 and above.  Shit, Demon Wall was there.  Demon Wall is a boss.  Second, it the time difference makes the reunion feel hollow.  There are some implications that the boys knew Noctis would come back, and that they knew because of what happened in the crystal, but the way it’s set up, it’s like he’s only been gone for a few weeks.  It really seems like 10 years is only there because it being a 10 year game was one of the original promises, and to give Talcott some pay off, but Iris could have been the person to pick up Noctis.

Then, of course, we have the final battle.  It’s got a great line (get out of my chair, jester.  The King sits there), but it’s also totally alone.  The game is about the boys and their brotherhood.  It’s why they all, Noctis included, wear Kingsguard uniforms to the final battle.  Even when they fracture, it’s their mutual love and brotherhood that brings them together, and the final scene before going into Insomnia for the last time is all about how they face the final battle together, as brothers.  Also, the very opening of the game is them going up against Ifrit, at the end of the world.  It should be great, but in the end, Noctis and Ardyn have a crazy Dragon Ball Z battle through the air, then Noctis sacrifices himself to end Ardyn’s immortality, and Noctis gets to be with Lunafreya in the afterlife.

Noctis dying, weirdly, becomes the easy way out.  Instead of losing Lunafreya, instead of having to suffer alone on a throne and rebuild a kingdom out of nothing, Noctis gets to have everything.  Sure, he “dies,” but the final scene shows that he gets to be with his love and be married in the afterlife.  He doesn’t have to suffer on earth with his friends, and rebuild a broken world.  Terra doesn’t get to die in Final Fantasy VI when the magic goes away, because she has to be there to raise the children (also because you can potentially beat the game without her, you monster).  She found her place in the world, she got to have her arc, and killing her would be pointless and grim.  Here, it’s sort of the opposite.  It’s a dark game, and in this instance, Noctis gets to die instead of doing the hard work.  It’s a shame.

Still, it’s an otherwise great game.  Probably best to just ignore everything after Chapter 12, though.  Or, at least, Episode Prompto.  I hear that one is pretty good.


Number 3: Final Fantasy XV


Copyright Square Enix

The past decade hasn’t been easy for me, at least as far as being a Final Fantasy fan went.  Sure, XII came out, and it was my favorite in the series across all 20 years, but that was sort of the end of the line.  I didn’t think it could get much worse than X and all of the terrible sequels to VII, but then we got XIII and those games, XIV was so bad they had to rebuild it from the ground up to salvage it, so it was hard to look at XV with the legacy Square Enix had left behind for the past ten years and think that the ten years it took to make would result in a game that was coherent, let alone good.  Now, here we are, and I can’t stop playing this game.

Real talk, it’s not the best Final Fantasy, and it has a lot of the quirks of several of the other games in the series.  The characters are a little flat, the plot doesn’t always make sense and villains don’t get enough good screen time to be enough to flesh them out and all that terrible hair (Gladiolus has a mullet, people.  A mullet).  Plus the combat is a bit dodgy and the magic system is more of a good idea than a good execution, but, honestly from the word go, none of that mattered at all, because XV works.  How it works is best illustrated in the very first scene in the game, where the car is broken down on the side of the road, in the desert, because of course, and the prince and his buddies have to push the car to the gas station and all four of them start bickering and teasing each other while pushing it.  It’s just an instantly relateable scene that transports the player right there to the world, and everything just makes sense.

This is what makes it so good.  Final Fantasy, even back on the NES, had lush, gorgeous visuals that did a good job of making it feel like the player was right there in the action, only getting better over the past 29 years, but XV does it on a whole different scale.  Whether it’s driving on the highway with Noctis and company, looking out of the side of the road to see a meteor being held up by a titan just as part of the scenery, or riding on chocobo back in across the plains to fight some monsters, or walking into an enchanted forest to find a tomb of a lost king, all of completely seamless and without transitions, it made me feel like I was there, every second I’m playing the game.  When I was on the Veldt in Final Fantasy VI, it was just a map, with some forests added in for flavor, but here, I can drive out to the forests and go right in without anything ever changing.  It makes great work of the open world.

Combat is a lot of fun, too.  Sure, it doesn’t always work right, but it doesn’t matter.  The action combat system is the way Square wants to go, and I can’t blame them.  It’s not Dark Souls (and I’m glad it’s not), but the controls are good and the way engaging monsters happens, especially the huge, multi-target monstrosities the game will let a player tackle, works so well.  It feels exactly like how I imagined Final Fantasy combat “really” looked in my head when I played them as a teenager.  Maybe I didn’t expect throwing a greatsword at someone, then teleport slamming into their chest (which is SO satisfying, and I’m glad its a central part of combat), but everything else is exactly how I imagined it, right down to the characters making fun of each other and complimenting each other in the middle of a battle.  Even some of the chatter sounds word for word what I expected Cloud and Squall (or at least their buddies) would say after scoring a really nice critical.

At the end of the day, what really works about the game is that it’s about a bunch of buddies on a journey, and the journey manages to be compelling no matter what wrenches get thrown in.  Not everything here works, but it doesn’t matter, because when I get to camp, Prompto is going to have a bad selfie, a pick of Noctis’s ass while trying to get on a Chocobo, and a picture that made everything I did between save points look awesome as hell.  That, sometimes, is all that matters.


Red Guy With A Beard Is not a Fantasy Race

Final Fantasy XIV has officially failed when it comes to fantasy races.  I wasn’t really a big fan of the races from Final Fantasy XI, since they seemed like half-assed Tolkien rip offs.  You got your humans, elves and halflings.  No dwarves, but there’s the best guy and the cat girl, so I guess that’s originality, right? (no.)  I was kind of hoping we’d get to see some new races or something from one of the other games, but it looks like Square just wants to do some FF XI palette swaps for XIV.  Lame.

For a series that has tons of cool and unique monsters and races, like Moogles and Bangaa, why did the developers of these two Final Fantasies decide to go for the most generic race concepts?  I mean, the regular games have given us Mog (Moogle), Kimahri (some beast race), Fran (Viera), plus all those guys from IX, but in the MMORPG, the devs decided to go with the most bland D&D-reject races in an MMORPG.  Hell, even World of Warcraft, which from the outside looks pretty vanilla, gives players the choice of being undead, a minotaur (Tauren), space goat guys with tentacles (draenei) and nuclear powered gnomes (take that Dragonlance!).  Hell, the expansion is adding werewolves!

But the worst of the crop is this guy:

Sure, he may have red skin, but having red skin and a beard doesn’t mean you qualify has a fantasy race.  Hell, if I dipped myself in red paint and dyed my hair and beard white, do I get to call myself a completely different sapient creature?  Come on, at least Viera have bunny ears, tails and weird looking feat.  This is a dude in a toga!