Final Fantasy: A Retrospective

I recently played Final Fantasy XIII-2. I had a good time playing it. It looked amazing, as Square Enix games tend to do. The storyline and gameplay were both better than Final Fantasy XIII. There were some things that pissed me off. Like, the story, though not bad, was a little complex and even nonsensical. And Mog got me so angry throughout the whole game. Seriously, Moogles do not literally say ‘Kupo’. Moogles say kupo like a cat says meow. Some of the sidequests and enemies were stupid and annoying and downright bad. But I still had fun collecting as much as I could, making my party members stronger, and I really loved the monster hunting/raising.

So, here’s my score for Final Fantasy XIII-2.

Gameplay: 7/10

Music: 6/10

Graphics: 10/10

Story: 7/10

Total: 7/10

Yeah, I know that review was horribly short, but I promise, I am not gypping you here. What I have planned here is something much bigger than myself and the review of one silly video game.

The Final Fantasy series as a whole holds a very special place in my heart. Along with the Mega Man series (to this day, my favorite franchise), I grew up with Final Fantasy more than any other series. Mario and Sonic may be two great series of games, and I played a lot of them. And they are almost definitely far more influential as far as video games go. But nothing got me into the experience of playing a video game like Final Fantasy. I remember my first time playing Final Fantasy III (VI) was also the first time that I ever felt truly immersed in a game’s environment, the first time I cared deeply for a video game character, and the first time that I was genuinely floored by a game’s plot. I realize that there were probably some massive, epic, and equally good RPGs that had been released before FFIII, but I was a bit too young for those at the time. FFIII came out at just the right time. At a time that I was ready to attempt a video game that would take more than a couple hours to successfully beat. And I never looked back. Mega Man may be my favorite franchise, but because of Final Fantasy, the RPG genre remains my favorite genre of video games.

And whatever you may think about the series’s quality, you cannot deny its influence. Think of it like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. I hate The Rolling Stones, save for a few amazing songs, but I understand that without them, many of the bands that I do like wouldn’t exist. Just like without Final Fantasy, many of the video games that we enjoy today would not exist. The RPG genre, the fantasy genre, and in fact, the entire video game industry would likely not be anywhere near its current status were it not for this series.

I thought about all of this as I was gathering my thoughts for my Final Fantasy XIII-2 review, and I realized that I had a lot more to say about the whole series. I decided that I would much rather do a retrospective of the whole series so far and give my thoughts on how the games have evolved. And I decided that I wanted to do it as a countdown from my least to most favorite.

But first, a few bullet points:

  • This series and its influences are far bigger than any of us. I cannot give a detailed analysis of each game or tell you about the effort put into them by their creators. All I can do is offer an opinion. I can tell you what I like and what I think does work and what does not work. I only ask that you treat it as such. I am not trying to change anyone’s mind about their favorites or otherwise. There are multitudes of opinions and points that can be made for each and every one of them. So, if my opinion in this list does not quite gel with yours, that’s fine. Feel free to leave some feedback with your own opinions and points. I’m excited to hear them.
  • Speaking of feedback, a comment will not be approved for public viewing if it is not constructive in any way. This is a debate that I honestly enjoy if it is done intelligently and reasonably. A comment of, “You fucking suck you piece of shit!” doesn’t help anyone, whereas a comment reading, “I fucking disagree and here’s why!” is fine. Cursing is fine. I obviously like to curse. But the former comment just does not further any conversation while the latter at least keeps the debate open.
  • I will only cover games in the main series. So that means that sequels/spin-offs like X-2 and XIII-2 will not be included. This also means that Final Fantasy Tactics will not be included, or else I can tell you that it would take #1. Also, no Final Fantasy Adventure, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, etc. 
  • I will also not be including either Final Fantasy XI or Final Fantasy XIV. I avoid MMOs like I avoid Justin Bieber chatrooms. Plus, I have heard nothing but horrible things about both of these games, and I have no desire to play either of them at all. So, feel free to include them in your own lists, but don’t yell at me because I didn’t. This leaves twelve games to be counted down.

So, without further ado, I bring you Organ Miner’s Final Fantasy Retrospective.

#12: 

I can already tell that I’m diving straight in to unpopular opinion, but I’m just going to say it. I hate FFIX. And this is the only one of the series that I can truly say that. But it’s true. There is very little that I honestly like about this game. A lot of the graphics are nice. Some monster designs are really cool like Soulcage and Maliris. And I like some of the soundtrack. But that’s it. The character design and character models are hideous with their grossly disproportionate heads and bodies. They don’t look like people at all, and they’re just ugly to look at. I could overlook this if any of the characters were likable. But no. Most of them are straight up boring and flat. I hear a lot of people say that they like Zidane because he enjoys life and he’s not some emo crybaby like Squall or Cloud. And that may be true, but Zidane only enjoys life because he’s an arrogant, womanizing douchebag. He’s a terrible person. What gets me is the fact that so many people love this one, and I simply can’t see it. The characters are uninspired, the story is uninspired, the villain is uninspired, Tetra Master, the card based mini-game is uninspired (and needlessly complex). Fuck it, the whole damn game is uninspired. There’s something to say about a game when its sidequests are more fun and interesting than its main storyline. I had more fun delivering mail to moogles and digging up treasure boxes all over the world with my chocobo than I did finding out Zidane’s origin. Not to mention, it has the worst method of learning abilities that I have ever seen. If you want to learn a good ability, you need to use a piece of crappy equipment? No. I can’t find the good in that.  One thing that I can say to FFIX’s credit is the fact that it is one of only three games in the series that has multiplayer (which is the only reason I played it more than once). But even that could not save it from the #12 spot.

#11: 

Complain as I might about FFIX, FFIII came really close to taking the #12 spot. But it has one thing, one innovation to keep it from being my least favorite game in the series. And that is the Job System. This was the first game to implement such as system, and I love a good Job System. It’s a big reason why I would place Final Fantasy Tactics as #1 if I had the option to do so. A good Job System is a great way to add a layer of customization to your game. Sadly, I think that’s the only good thing about this one. Aside from the Job System, there’s no real innovation and I found myself getting bored. Of course, that’s not going to stop me from getting it when the Ouya is released. I’m curious to see if they’ll improve and innovate.

#10: 

“But Organ Miner, if you have such a boner for Job Systems, why place FFV so low on your list?” you ask? Granted, the Job System is done remarkably well here. I love it. That and Gilgamesh. I really like Gilgamesh. But the rest is kind of crap. FFV suffers from all of the same problems that FFIII did with small improvements across the board. The big problem that I have though is that pretty much everything about FFV is worse than the game that came right before it. Graphically, FFIV is a bit better and its story is far superior. Aside from the Job System, FFV made no improvements to the series whatsoever. I didn’t like a single character (again, except for Gilgamesh), and FFV contains quite possibly the most standard and lackluster villain ever. The final boss was really cool, though.

#9: 

Okay, now we’re getting into the Final Fantasy games that I actually enjoy… Well, kind of. I really liked FFXII up to a point, and then I didn’t. It had some innovations and it did manage to update the outdated ATB battle system by making it feel like I was doing more than just waiting for my next turn (even though that’s still all I was doing). It also had the complex Gambit system, which is pretty neat and allowed you to develop your own  AI party strategies so you didn’t have to put in a bunch of commands all by yourself. The problem with the Gambit system though is that, if it’s manipulated enough, you can let the AI do everything for you. You don’t even need to play. I won’t knock it too much though, as you can choose not to do that. Graphically, the game was stunning and its art style was something that I hadn’t quite seen before. The story and characters were pretty bland, but not awful, I guess. No, I began to dislike it really late in the game with some really poor dungeon and enemy design choices. It really began to feel like a chore just to play the game. But I stuck with it and collected as much of the sidequest stuff as possible, but after the game did not give me the Sagittarius bow after I fulfilled all of the requirements to get the Sagittarius bow, I stopped collecting the optional stuff and just went to beat the game. It took 120 hours to ultimately be disappointed.

#8:

The one that started it all. I didn’t beat this one until it was released on the GBA as Final Fantasy: Dawn of Souls. And I thought that was done pretty well. While it was quite seriously a Dungeons and Dragons game, this was the game that practically launched the RPG genre. Games like Dragon Warrior perhaps set the groundwork and built the genre in the hangar, Final Fantasy is the game that made it take flight, and you have to give it some credit for that. The initial NES release is a bit annoying and difficult and honestly, not a whole lot of fun, when I finally saw the rest of the game with Dawn of Souls, I finally got to see the rest of the story, and got to see it without the burden of the poor translation that was all early Final Fantasy games. And the story is good! It’s a bit more complex than you might expect from an old game such as this. Plus, the way it ends actually kind of lives up to its title. Final Fantasy. It was kind of cool to see the title kind of make sense for once.

#7: 

“Blasphemy!” screams the masses. FFXIII is pretty consistently panned by most of the people who have played it. I am in the very small majority that doesn’t hate this game. Is it the greatest thing to happen to video games? No. Is it my favorite Final Fantasy game ever? Clearly not, seeing as I just rated it as #7, still in the lower half of the list, and I said its sequel was a better game. But dammit, I don’t think it was bad! There are some legitimate complaints out there: the linear dungeon design, the overemphasis on graphics, even the battle system, which I personally enjoyed, I can see why others might not. And those reasons are why it’s as low as it is. But there are some other complaints that need to be addressed here. A lot of people complain about the battle system because you can just hit Auto-Battle and have the characters do the work for you. But you can’t really complain about that because you don’t need to do it. How can you trash something if you have the option to turn it off? Others complain about the story, and I admit, not much of the story is conveyed through gameplay. But everything you need to know is contained within the Encyclopedia or Data Log section. If you take the time to read that stuff, you can find some pretty interesting shit. It’s a lot more thought-out than one might think. That can be considered a problem, sure. But for someone who enjoys reading and learning the history of these games, it becomes less of a problem and more of a discovery. Like this: My sister played the game and complained that the main villain just kind of appears out of nowhere simply to supply us with a villain. That would be a valid complaint. But I read the Data Log and learned all about him well before the characters had even heard of him. If you just take a little time out of your flashy battles to learn a little history, you find a pretty solid story. But like I said, this is nowhere near my favorite. Most of the characters, I simply didn’t like. But I could relate to and sympathize with Sazh and I thought that Lightning, despite having a silly name, was pretty cool. None of the music, save for the basic battle music, came out at me, which is disappointing, because the soundtracks tend to be some of my favorite parts about these games. All in all, I’m just sorry this poor game gets so much hate.

#6: 

This is where I admit that some of these choices in the middle rankings are a bit arbitrary. To be honest, FFI, FFII, and FFXIII are pretty much interchangeable here. I like them all pretty equally. From what I can remember, FFII was not the most memorable game in the world. But what I do remember clearly is the way that you improve your characters. They improve and level up depending on how you use them and what weapons they use. This gave the game a great deal of customization when it came to your characters, and that’s great. That little innovation alone was enough to give FFII a fairly high spot on the list. It gave it a replay value that nothing else could offer at the time. In FFI, you pick your character classes at the beginning, sure, but you’d better be damn sure about those choices, because you can’t change ’em. Here, if you don’t want someone to use a sword anymore, that’s okay. You just grind a bit and make them good with a bow. Any character could be any kind of fighter. And since I don’t remember disliking the story or the characters or anything, I feel comfortable rating this higher than FFV and FFIII, even if I like the Job System a little more when it comes to customization.

#5: 

Okay, here’s where I really expect some shit to come my way. Final Fantasy VII just barely makes the Top 5 for me. I can admit that, when it was new, I was taken in by it, too. But I played it a bit more recently, and I simply don’t think it holds up that well. It’s quite possibly the most overrated game of all damn time. Now, do not get me wrong here. It’s a good game. You know what, fuck it. It’s a great game! It did a lot of shit right, and I still think that its Materia-based magic system is one of the best there is. But I think a lot of people only like this game as much as they do simply because it was the first game of the series that they played. If they could just look at it objectively, they’d see that FFVII is not a perfect game. I’ll admit, there was a time that I truly thought that this was the pinnacle of gaming, that its only flaw was that it ended. Now that I’ve grown, matured and removed my nostalgia glasses, I see that, though great, FFVII is most definitely flawed. Its background graphics are beautiful, but its character models are not. Its translation is awful. Barrett is a hulking racial stereotype. Cloud and Vincent are whiny crybabies. I’ll admit, I think part of the reason I like it less as time goes on could be because to this day, I constantly hear people rave about how great it is, when it’s clearly not as great as they think. When you hear it so much, you begin to get bored of the whole subject. I also hate the fact that this game got more spin-offs than any other game in the series. Sure, Crisis Core was okay, but it was a story that didn’t need to be told. Dirge of Cerberus was trash. Vincent may have been a crybaby, but his backstory was interesting, but Dirge shat all over his character. And Advent Children was a piece of gold-plated shit. It looked pretty, but it was still just a piece of shit. And FFVII’s fans just won’t shut up about it. They praise Sephiroth as one of the greatest video game villains of all time, which is wrong on more than one level. He’s not even the villain. Jenova is. But I’m beginning to rant here. If you need a more detailed overview as to my feelings on this game, let me know privately. But the gist of it is, it’s a really good game with some definite flaws and horrible fans.

#4: 

This is one that I cannot fully explain. I truly love FFIV. And I’m not sure why. I mean, I love it, and I definitely have to rate it higher than VII, but as I’m thinking about it right now, I can’t think of any reasons why it’s technically or mechanically better. I like some of the complex relationships between the characters, and I believe that this was the first one to kill off an important character, a party member even. And this is a theme that they continued until, what FFVIII? That’s a big step. It’s got some cool monsters, which I always like and one of my top 3 favorite Final Fantasy final boss themes. But I can’t think of any characters besides Kain that I really like. There’s no customization in your party whatsoever. You can’t even decide which party members to bring to the end of the game. And it’s not like previous games or even FFV where there are only four playable characters. There are lots of them here, but you have to bring these predetermined five people? And yet, I love it. I enjoy it multitudes more than VII. Maybe there’s a bit of nostalgia here, seeing as this is the second one that I played, but it wasn’t that much later that I played VII. There has to be something here that I’m just missing, some reason why this one makes it so high on my list. As a game, I honestly don’t think it’s any better than VII, and yet, there’s no doubt in my mind when I rank it higher.

#3: 

FFX gets a lot of guff from gamers. Some of it is deserved, much of it is not. The story is good, but not as good as say, FFVII. Many of the characters are annoying or bland. The mini-games are a tedious pain in the ass. “Then why,” do you ask, “do you rate it so high on your list?”. For two simple reasons, my dear readers. The Sphere Grid and the battle system. For those that don’t know, the Sphere Grid is FFX’s system of leveling up and learning abilities. It’s a massive board, reminiscent of a board game, covered with stat bonuses and abilities with each characters at their own starting place. With the use of orbs that you find throughout the game, you can unlock these stat bonuses and abilities with each character. They each start out with their own predetermined role in battle, but with a little work, you can have any character do anything. It allows for a great deal of customization within your party and makes no character better than another (except for Wakka. He’s the best). Plus, they revamped the battle system, doing away with the outdated ATB system of almost every game before it. Battles flowed more smoothly and were a great deal more fast-paced without being too different from previous installments. To this day, I believe FFX has the best battle system of any of the franchise. And it boggles my mind that Square would go back to the damn ATB system in every installment after. I also want to address another area in which this game gets a lot of disapproval from the public. The main character, Tidus. People in general hate this guy (but love Zidane… go figure). This hatred stems mostly from FFX’s infamous Laughing Scene, and yes, the Laughing Scene is horrible. But Tidus is great as a character. He’s a crybaby (which is very different from an emo. Get it right all of you anti-Tidus people!) doing everything in his power to prove to his father and himself that he’s not a loser, and until a certain point in the game, I hated him too. Though he’s active and full of life, Tidus is also annoying and cocky. But by the end, he has grown and matured tremendously. In fact, I’d say that Tidus is probably the Final Fantasy character that grows the most. And that makes him a good character, goddammit! If you’re going to hate anyone from FFX, make it Yuna or Rikku.

#2: 

If there was any one area of this retrospective for which I would get any shit, it would be here. If there has been any Final Fantasy game that could be considered universally hated (besides XIII), it would be this one. Except, unlike FFXIII, I cannot figure it out at all. In my humble opinion, FFVIII improves upon its esteemed predecessor in almost every way. The only major flaws that I can find, even playing it more recently, are the Draw System and the translation. The Draw System wouldn’t even be a problem if you were allowed to Draw just one more spell per action and its something that I can easily overlook because of the rest of the game. And the translation, paired with a kind of complex story, makes the actual conveyance of the story a bit poor. I’ll admit, when I first played the game, I thought the story was kind of crap. And if I had left it at that, FFVIII would be considerably lower on the list. But after hacking through the terrible translation and figuring out a few things for myself, I found that the story is actually amazing! Dissenters also hate the Junction System, which blows my mind. They say, “Eh, you can just get so powerful that nothing can touch you. It makes it no fun!”. That is a 100% invalid argument, because you don’t have to make your characters that strong! That’s the genius of Junctioning. You can customize your party in any way that you want. Make them as powerful or as weak as you want. That’s the true heart of any real RPG. Getting to go through the story in a way of your choosing. Let’s take the character of Zell. His design suggests that he should be a physically powerful character, focusing on punching things in the head. But with the Juction System, he can be as powerful a mage as anybody, should you choose to do that. And that’s brilliant! People also hate Squall, calling him the epitome of emo, and I can kind of see that. But if you look at his history at all, you will notice that he has genuine psychological issues and a desperate fear of abandonment due to his past experiences. So, yeah he’s going to be introverted. You would, too! Squall make be a bit sulky, but the truth is, he’s probably one of the most relatable characters ever. Not to mention, the graphics are amazing (except for some character models, which are still fantastic by PS1 standards), the cinematics rival some games today, it has the best Final Fantasy mini-game to date with its card-based Triple Triad, the side-quests are all interesting and fun to discover, its soundtrack is still one of my favorites, the final string of boss fights is still jaw-droppingly cool and intense, and overall the execution of the game is brilliant. I want to say that the main reason that people spew bile so viciously at FFVIII, whether they will admit to it or not, is because it was too dissimilar to FFVII. Like I mentioned earlier, FFVII was the first game in the series for most of the American gaming community. So, when the tone, environment, and system were changed so drastically, many of these late bloomers did not want to adapt and that translated to straight hatred. And that’s truly sad, because I see this game as a near masterpiece.

#1: 

Am I being a bit hypocritical by rating the first Final Fantasy game that I ever played as my favorite? Especially after criticizing many FFVII fans for doing just that? Maybe, but dammit, this game is phenomenal! Also, let me say that I’ve changed my mind a million times over the years. FFVII was my favorite for a while. FFX was my favorite when it was new. And FFVIII took the #1 spot for a long time. But, FFVI would always find its way back into my mind, my heart, and my SNES. And now that I’ve grown and matured as a gamer and as a person, I feel like I can finally form an educated opinion based on not only my own personal preference, but on a more objective view of the series as a whole. And this one still comes out on top. I’ve beaten this game more than almost any other game in existence (save for maybe Mega Man III, which I’ve beaten probably 100 times), and almost every time, I’ve discovered something new, be it a new item or treasure chest, or an interesting bit of character development. And I’m still not sick of it. I recently started playing it again with my girlfriend and also started playing the GBA re-release. I’m doing these at the same time! There are a massive amount of playable characters, adding up to fourteen, I believe. And all of them, except for Mog, Umaro, and Gogo, have very interesting and fleshed-out stories and histories. The story is fantastic, regarded by many, myself included, as one of the greatest RPG stories of all time. The Magicite System of magic, though perhaps not the most innovative system ever, is perfectly executed and allows for at least a degree of the customization that I’ve been raving about so feverishly throughout this whole list. The soundtrack is still my favorite video game soundtrack of all time, with every song perfectly encapsulating the setting in which it is played. FFVI has the Opera Scene! The final boss fights are massive and incredibly symbolic. Kefka is probably one of the most detestable (and successful) villains ever. Everything is simply done right. However my opinion on the series may change in the future, I’m fairly certain that Final Fantasy VI will always end up on top and will remain one of my favorite games, not only in the Final Fantasy series, but of all time.

So there you have it. One more opinion in a sea of opinions. Though, even if nobody reads this, I still had a great time writing it. It was an interesting venture to finally put all of this down in writing. And I have to say, I even surprised myself at a couple points. And I do wish that I could do a more in-depth analysis of each one of these multitudinous games. And perhaps I will at some point in the future, but it won’t be here. It would take months or even years to complete such a venture. But, maybe when I am so inclined and free to take on something so massive, I can start a YouTube channel for it or something. But in the meantime, you have one humble gamer’s opinion, and I hope that will do.

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About The Organ Miner

I enjoy video games and otters. That is all that I am at liberty to disclose. View all posts by The Organ Miner

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