Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How I categorize Final Fantasy

The Final Fantasy series, as a whole, can be categorized into different eras.  To many people it is the era of Sakaguchi vs the era of Wada/Nomura.  Some people erroneously believe that there is a "Fantasy vs Future" division in the game, which I call "bullshit" because even the first one has a space station and mechs.  Anyone that claims 6 was too advanced likes to forget about sci-fi elements that were in 4(come on... you know... the whale? the giant titan.. its sci-fi).  Anyways, I divide them up differently.

See, I think that Sakaguchi actually made 2 different game franchises under the same title and used the same legacy hallmarks to group them together.  To me, the Sakaguchi era was a Final Fantasy A and a Final Fantasy B that largely took turns for the first six games.  It gets a little messy toward the end, when others got more control of the series.  The term "modern" era denotes the era we are still in now, and also the reality the game takes place in.  Social and cultural cues from our modern society are the norm for these games, and not set in earlier time periods as the earlier games were.  Then we have the easily classified MMO's, and then the tricky to classify FF12.

Final Fantasy A(1, 3, 5)

This archtype was began in the first of the series.  It took a lot of inspiration from games that came from the US that were in turn based on Dungeons and Dragons.  The party does not have a huge cast of characters joining and leaving over time, and instead is based on giving the characters a "job" and have them advance through the jobs as growth.  New characters were not needed because if you needed a different kind of fighter for an area, you simply changed jobs.  I can not say that these focused on the technical aspects of gameplay because actually they were the least adventurous in this aspect.  The combinations of classes and the melding of them in the later versions is really fun, and is the featured core of the series.

Final Fantasy B(2, 4, 6, 7, 9)

These series of games are more focused on giving us a narrative experience.  Characters join and leave the party, and generally you are left with a group of characters to create your adventuring party yourself.  These games prove to be complex because the developers never know who will be in the party, so branching side-stories can happen.  The stories also happen to be more political and sweeping in these games, especially early on, which is why I feel the Ivalice world worked so well in the series.  I put Final Fantasy 9 here, even though it is supposed to be the sendoff of all the 8 and 16 bit eras, the final "farewell" of Sakguchi to the fans of this series.  Some argue that 6 should not be here because of its more victorian/steampunk era, but like I said, you can't really put technology era as a center category in Final Fantasy.

The weirdness of Final Fantasy 7

In the end, because of the hallmarks it uses, I placed Final Fantasy 7 with the "B" series instead of the "modern" series.  I feel like 7 was going to be the start of a whole new era for Sakaguchi, but by this time Square needed a much larger team to make the game, and elements of 7 became intertwined.  It is in transition between Sakaguchi and the new guard at Square Enix.  If you look beyond the setting, looking at the mechanics of the game, the choices in which "Final Fantasy" parts they used, I feel like it is closer overall to the "B" series.  The modern series is focused on literally being fashion forward, while the character designs of 7 are sort of modern, they are still stylized and not based on anything in the current real world.  I can certainly see why others would rank it with the Modern series, so feel free to do as you will.

Final Fantasy Modern(8, 10, 13)

Many claim that the anime styled characters and the technologically advanced setting of Final Fantasy 7 make it the first "Modern" Final Fantasy.  I think the "Modern" set is much more than just that definition.  Looking at game mechanics, story considerations, and overall "tone" of the narrative means that Final Fantasy 8 was the start.  The "Modern" games set a more serious feel to the cast, and the silliness is much more buffoonery than joking in general like the earlier games.  The stories focus more intimately on the characters, with the outer theme of the game taking back seat to the drama inside the group until near the very end of the game when you find out that all the inner drama is actually connected to the overworld epic story lines.  While Nomura did give an anime feel to Final Fantasy 7, I feel that the "Modern" classification is much closer to using realistic clothing and fashion choices, with an emphasis on Japanese culture taking center stage.  They all feel much more like they take current Japanese pop culture.  This era is much more Japanese-centric than the previous games which had a strong European influence.

Alternate Sub-Classifications

Final Fantasy Ivalice(12)

This era's world was created when Square asked Matsuno to create a Final Fantasy world in the style of his politically thrilling "Tactics Ogre" game.  If we're not counting spinoffs, then we only count one.  By the time Final Fantasy 12 was set in Ivalice, there had been 3 games set in this world, and after 12 there have been 3 more.  It is an oddity that is likely to never be repeated, and thus is the odd man out.  Look for my other posts about Ivalice for more thoughts from me, or even an explanation about why Ivalice is so controversial.  Posted Here

Alternate Sakaguchi(1-10, Lost Odyssey, The Last Story)

There are some that consider some of Sakaguchi's games as still "Final Fantasy" games.  Superceding everything after Final Fantasy 10.  The strongest contender being Lost Odyssey, which would be included in the Final Fantasy B category for me.  Another of his games, The Last Story, has also been said "this is where Final Fantasy went".  His game Blue Dragon is one I'd classify with Chrono Trigger(of which I do not count Chrono Cross) instead of Final Fantasy though.

Alternate Ivalice(FFT, Vagrant Story, FF12, FF12: Reverent Wings, FFTA2)

We also have an alternate Ivalice set up that is all Matsuno.  Because Ivalice's world was never really shown fully, many consider it to be the same world as Tactics Ogre.  Next you would include Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy 12, Vagrant Story, FF12 Reverent Wings, and Final Fantasy Tactics A2.  Funny enough, the only game to show Ivalice as its own world was Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, which is not included in this as its Ivalice was an alternate universe created parallel to our own... yep, not the same world as the other.

Bravely Default?

I have not played this game yet, but I hear so many views on where it would be classified.  The game's character narrative and art style is very much of Ivalice.  Then it has the job system of Final Fantasy 5 worked in there.  Others say it is the spiritual successor to Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light, and yet others say it is the spiritual sequel to Final Fantasy 9.  It was not developed "in house" at Square, rather it was created by the team that made 3D Dot Game Heroes, a game that is known as a love letter to Zelda and 8 bit RPG's.  So for now, I'll come at it as a fan-letter to old Final Fantasy, the FF9 of Final Fantasy type A.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Final Fantasy: Ivalice

Ivalice was first mentioned as the setting of Final Fantasy: Tactics.

To talk of this, though, we have to go further back.  Back to a series of video games called Ogre Battle.  Ogre Battle was a sort of real time strategy, turned based RPG hybrid that took place in a magical realm.  The story dipped into ambition and strategy between armies, but was not very detailed.  With Ogre Battle's success, the director became a household name in Japan.  With this new hit on their hands, they asked the director to make another game.  The director was Yasumi Matsuno, and events of the world would change the game, and his legacy.

In the early 1990's, the Yugoslav Wars were highly televised and covered around the world.  Matsuno would see what the war, and the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, would do to a modern society.  He became determined that his next game would explore the horrors of war, and force people to think of how horrible it was.  He then created Tactics Ogre, a game very strongly respected, even today.  Through the use of telling a smaller personal story, like that on a stage, Matsuno was able to get the epic story of war to the audience in a digestible way.  Studio pressure and being unhappy with his company, Matsuno left Quest, but was soon hired by Squaresoft to produce the first "modern" spinoff of Final Fantasy; Final Fantasy Tactics.  Ivalice was the world he created for the game.  In it, he mixed his political story with the fantastic elements of Final Fantasy.  Summons became religion, Chocobos became warhorses, and the Final Fantasy job system got one of its best incarnations.

When discussing Final Fantasy, there is a line in the sand with some people.  That line is "no spinoffs", that way you do not have to discuss the re-titled gameboy games(which aren't Final Fantasy, but are Secret of Mana and SaGa games), and Mystic Quest.  This also meant that many put Final Fantasy Tactics into that.  This stopped because Final Fantasy 12 was developed in the world of Ivalice, making the world "Canon".  This does interesting things because now the Metal Gear Solid/Metroidvania game known as Vagrant Story is technically part of a canon Final Fantasy world.

Many people debate if the world is in fact the same world or a different version each time with just a sprinkle of allusions to the other titles.  Others point to a timeline that can make sense of how some things exist in one world but not in the other.  I personally subscribe to the timeline that goes like this:  Final Fantasy 12, Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story.  In Final Fantasy Tactics you find ruins while exploring that have broken airships, and they talk about moogles being extinct but once existing.  This firmly puts it ahead of Final Fantasy 12.  In Vagrant Story the religion of Final Fantasy 12 is talked about as an old "pagan" religion, and that the new religion took place after an old one was found to be heretical.  This religion, I believe, is the one from Final Fantasy Tactics.  Also, the grandson of the historian that wrote Final Fantasy Tactic's account of historical events is the one that wrote the "truth" of Vagrant Story.  By Vagrant Story, magic is a rare thing, only practiced by those that know the secrets, in Final Fantasy 12 and Tactics it is common place.  To me this timeline makes the most sense.  I also have suspicion that Lea Monde from Vagrant Story is a settlement built on top of the Ancient City of Giruvegan in Final Fantasy 12.  Both cities seem to be entire cities that are actually magical sigils, arranged in circles, and tied to a power source in the center.  Matsuno has said he never intended to make Vagrant Story part of Ivalice, but this was obviously an intention that was thrown away before the game actually began, so to me it is absolutely the same world.

Not all games set in Ivalice have been made by Matsuno, since Squaresoft owns the rights.  A strange happening is Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, which technically happens in the real world instead of Ivalice.  Its world is a "made up" world that takes place in a magical book, so is not actually this Ivalice.   Tactics Advance A2 does though, as does Revenant Wings and Crystal Defenders.  So while Matsuno has had a strong hand in controlling how this world developed, he hasn't had complete control.

The world of Ivalice has had many critically acclaimed games to take place in it.  When Famtisu "Perfect 40's" were more rare than snow in hell, there were 2 games that earned it in this world, "Final Fantasy 12" and "Vagrant Story" were among the first 8 to get the score and Matsuno the only person to direct two "Perfect 40's".  Sadly the games were never financial hits compared to the JRPG's of the late 90's.  With the entire Ivalice Alliance set up taking place in a waning era of Squaresoft, we are likely to not see much else happen there.  This may have been a contributing factor to Matsuno deciding to leave Squaresoft after Final Fantasy 12 was taken out of his hands and tinkered with heavily before release.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Dragoons: A Legacy of Sorrow

(Spoilers of a major nature to FF7, FF2, and perhaps minor to 8 and 9, tiny spoilers to FF13)

Dragoon: A Legacy of Sorrow

When I say Dragoon, many things come to mind.  To some, THE Dragoon is Kain.  There are also others that are obviously Dragoons though they do not identify themselves as such; Fang and Cid(7) fit into this profile.  Some of you will think "jump attacks", and/or the use of a spear, and both of these do identify the Dragoon in a Final Fantasy.

With a wider focus of the series as a whole, to me the legacy of the Dragoon is that of loss and sorrow.

To Dragoons it is the devotion to duty and their loyalty that is tested and ultimately leads to their plight.  The original Dragoon, named Ricard(Gareth in some translations) was devoted to his dead best friend's wife and child, but ultimately his duty as the last Dragoon meant that he had to leave them in service to the greater good.  In Final Fantasy 4(IIUS) we have Kain, who has to work against his best friend and loved ones because of his devotion to duty, even when it is blatant that those he serves are evil.  Its still too early to talk much about Final Fantasy 13(more people need to finish it, IMO), but Fang's devotion to duty means(( the death of millions, while disobeying means the death of her best friend)) (highlight the white text  to see the spoiler)

Loss, though not through duty, is also exemplified in the Dragoon ranks.  In Final Fantasy 9, we meet Freya.  Her identity is so wrapped up and mingled with her beloved, that when he disappears her life does as well.  She searches for who she lost and is emotionally devoid without him.  Ward is the Dragoon of Final Fantasy 8, and it is through his actions that his best friend falls in love and then loses that love, and it is this devotion to his friend that causes him to lose his ability to speak.  Kimarhri of Final Fantasy X loses honor itself due to his broken horn and the scorn of his tribe for his small stature.  It is the loss of this honor which causes him to swear an oath of protection on Yuna, and this devotion that causes him to throw his tribal traditions aside, losing all of his family in the process.

There is one dragoon I have left out, and the reason I left him out is because he is special.  If you take all the years of Final Fantasy into consideration, Cid Highwind is the one that bucked the trend.  He was everything that makes a Dragoon sorrowful.  He worked as a test pilot for evil Shinra.  Many of the missiles, rockets and destructive aircraft you see through the whole game are around because Cid helped them develop them.  His team is responsible for a lot of hurt in the world, and Cid did not care because he got what he wanted.  Why is he special then?  Well we are told from the start that his "loss" is that of being the first man in space.  This is a lie.  (( Cid's true loss would be losing Shera.  Dragoons are characterized by giving up everything for a "duty" of some sort, and in the end it was Cid's willingness to not give up Shera that lead to everything else being cast aside.  Cid was the only Dragoon to choose the love of someone over his sworn goal, and for that he is rewarded by getting both in the end, and ending up the least tragic of all dragoons to date.) Highlight the white text for spoiler reveal.

So as you have read, many things make up a Dragoon, but the chief among them is loss, sorrow, honor and loyalty. This is the reason why many take the Dragoon of a series as their favorite characters in the series. They are complex, grey-scale characters with many motivations and a tortured conscience full of hard decisions.