Final Fantasy VII: More of Same

Barret: The planet's full of Mako energy. People here use it every day.

Old-school fans playing Final Fantasy VII: *squealing brakes* Hold everything! When does Final Fantasy start? I bought a frickin’ Final Fantasy game, and you’re foisting SF on me? Where the heck is this coming from? What does this have to do with Final Fantasy!?

Mythology major: Gee, I’m glad you asked that question.

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Final Fantasy Kumis: FFX, FFXIII

I originally posted this on Tumblr, but it’s so hard to find old posts there that I’m archiving it here. Even though I won’t reach these two games in my playthrough for a year. Have a does of Meta!

組, kumi, “group, party, pair, band, class” ~ Wikipedia

I like both Final Fantasy X and XIII, although the pacing, plotting and worldbuilding of XIII show the duct tape and staples of development hell. Yet the characters in both games are passionate, complex individuals with hidden motivations and a great deal of personality, despite their tendency to slot into archetypes at first glance. The messy dynamics between the party members in XIII, I think, are the game’s greatest strength.

It fascinates me that the two games’ kumis start out almost as inverses of one another.

In X, every party member cares tremendously for some of the other party members. The four from Besaid grew up together and are all deeply devoted to Yuna and to one another, united by bonds of trust and understanding and old friendship (and occasional squabbles). Tidus falls for Yuna and likes Rikku and looks up to Auron  when he’s not bawling at him. Rikku cares enough for her cousin to pledge herself as a guardian, despite her upbringing. Auron is more aloof, but betrays occasional gruff fondness that goes above and beyond that of duty to dead friends’ children. They’re a kumi from the start, quickly adjusting to adopt new members into the kumi.

In FFXIII, every party member cares tremendously for someone outside the group. At first, none of them care for one another except Fang and Vanille (who are separated). Lightning is dedicated to her sister and takes out every frustration on Snow. Snow is dedicated to Lightning’s sister and barely paying attention to those dragged under in his wake. Fang will “tear down the sky” for her missing girlfriend, and will certainly tear apart a few strangers on Vanille’s behalf. Vanille’s in cloud cuckoo land to avoid inner turmoil, but she’s hunting desperately for her girlfriend. Hope’s missing his mom and doesn’t want to be with any of these crazy people, although he soon latches onto Lightning as a surrogate. The sane guy, Sazh, is in it only for his son.

So the dynamics are inverted: in FFX, the group starts out interconnected by a network of loyalties and shared pasts, whereas in FFXIII, they begin with nothing in common and with disparate loyalties pulling them outward. The first half of FFXIII, up through chapter 7, is simply the process of forging connections between members of the group so that they can become a group, a kumi.

Both arcs work for me because I like characters motivated by fierce love for and loyalty to other characters. It means I tend to fall for the tired old romance tropes, but I don’t necessarily fix on the romantic storyline, so much as the ones of friendship, devotion and trust.

Luckily most of the FFs play with those tropes, too. But FFXIII, more than most, is about the spectrum between rejection, trust and blind obedience.

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Final Fantasy I Ending / Analysis

final fantasy i original ending

Ending screen of FFI, NES (original) version, English translation. Source: Hardcore Gaming

So, that was my first playthrough of Final Fantasy I. Before I leave the game, a few scattered thoughts.

Was it fun? Worth playing?

For a gamer who can enjoy rather than chafe at the simplicity of old games, sure! It was actually more enjoyable than I expected it would be, partly due to the fact that I played the remastered version which had changed the game mechanics. I’m not sure I could’ve toughed it out through the original, which had no Phoenix Downs and required you to lug KOed members back to towns for resurrection.

The story and world were pretty basic, of course, and as I noted in my “Who Are You?” roleplay discussion, the characters were more avatars than characters, as interesting as we made them out to be.  The game really did have a certain charm, despite its stock fantasy simplicity; it did have many of the beloved game and story elements that have made Final Fantasy enduring. I could believe that FFI hooked enough players to rescue Square from near-bankruptcy. Even odd little things like the iconic black mage with the Jawa eyes contributed to making it just…a little…different.

The retro graphics and music were good bonuses.

Discussion of the story/world/ending (such as it was):

Now, about that story. One of the fun parts of Final Fantasy fandom are the worlds, characters, and plot. This game didn’t have much of the above, and what it did have was sketchy, but there were a few interesting head-scratchers to ponder. I gather that Dissidia Final Fantasy has picked up on some of these loose ends.

So, spoilers ahead for the game ending, particularly the First Ever Final Fantasy Time Loop Mind Screw:

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“The Best Stories I Ever Lived”: The Role of Roleplay in Final Fantasy

So what is roleplaying in Final Fantasy games, and in video games? Whose roles are we playing? And how do we play and experience those roles?

Final Fantasy I screencap:

Final Fantasy I (remake) screencap. Who are “you”: the character? the player? the author? an observer? Also, who defines/names the character? Who IS the character: a believable person, or just an avatar, a cursor?

FFXIII Screencap: Lightning asks Fang, "Who are you?"

Final Fantasy XIII screencap: Same questions, different answers. Also, notice who’s asking: in-game’s “you” is simultaneously an out-of-game “she” or “they.” Pronoun shift means a POV shift. The double-vision “you” of RPGs makes for a complex experience.

Roleplaying is, at its fundamental level, a giant game of “let’s pretend,” toying with the question, “Who are you?” Roleplaying games are systems that codify and expand our ability to define that “you.” At the same time, roleplaying games are about them: the characters we roleplay.

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Discussion: Final Fantasy’s D&D Origins

D&D figures vs Final Fantasy Figures

My D&D figures battle my Final Fantasy figures for the last remaining die from my basic D&D set.

I had always recognized the D&D elements embedded in Final Fantasy. However, the games I played first were VIII, X, and VII, the PSX games which diverge the most from FF’s Dungeons & Dragons roots.

These roots are plain to see in Final Fantasy I. Stripped clean of its successors’ additions and complexities, FFI is clearly a video game adaptation of  vintage, first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, just like many other video games of that period.

Playing Final Fantasy I hits me with a double whammy of nostalgia, both for later Final Fantasy games and for my formative years playing AD&D as a teen and young adult. In a way, the D&D throwbacks help me know what it’s like for old-school Final Fantasy gamers revisiting the games they played as kids.

Here’s just some of the D&D borrowings I noticed while playing this game.

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