Thursday, May 19, 2011

Finally, a fantasy.

RPGs are not my favorite genre of video game, as I discussed last year, and the Final Fantasy series in particular has been letting me down with each new installment I play. I liked FFI, FFIV, and Mystic Quest when I first played them in elementary and middle school, but I was young and foolish back then. Now I'm old and foolish and play Final Fantasy games I don't like.

FFII punished my party with instant death for even the smallest amount of off-the-beaten-path overworld exploration, and bored me with useless dialogue and tedious wandering. FFV gave me a delightfully customizable job system and neutralized the fun with a generic storyline and outrageously unfair boss battles requiring exactly the right setup of jobs and equipment to succeed. FFVI gave me too many party members and too many not-really-optional sidequests. FFVIII dragged on far too long and never stayed focused on the characters I liked for any amount of time.

Oh, and the random battles. I'm not entirely opposed to random battles, but the Final Fantasy games do them poorly. There, I said it.

Whereas Dragon Warrior gives you a variety of monsters in groups of varying size that require actual tactics to survive when all of the damage you're doing is in single or double digits, Final Fantasy usually gives you the same few monsters in the same few configurations that can be taken down in most cases by mashing the attack button to do several hundred damage or casting whatever spell you happen to select first.

This is acceptable enough for just getting slowed down while moving from A to B, but grinding for gold and XP quickly becomes a wholly unfulfilling and wasteful experience. At least in Dragon Warrior you know you can stop grinding when you are able to just mash the attack button and stop thinking about tactics.

Where was I going with this? Right--why I mysteriously like Final Fantasy III.

You see, I've been playing the Nintendo DS remake of FFIII, which feels like a harmonious blend of the combat of FFI, the job system of FFV, and miscellaneous elements of FFIV. OK, so maybe not a mystery after all. So far, so good.

What's more, the challenge is scaled almost perfectly so that, if your tactics are sound, you only need to grind for gold if you absolutely must clean out a town's weapon, armor, and magic shops before starting to explore the next area. The music is nice, the story is unremarkable but at least different enough not to feel stale, and the low-tech 3-D graphics are not as abrasive as I initially thought they'd be. There's a few minor shortcomings and annoyances, such as notably long load times for every change of scene, and no real instant gratification for attaining a new job level, but nothing so egregious as RANDOM FOREST DINOSAUR CASTS ULTIMA AND DECIMATES YOUR PARTY.

Essentially, I've got everything I want in a Final Fantasy game without any of the things that put a major damper on the rest of the series. Yet, I don't think that's why I'm enjoying it so much right now. I actually had daydreams of going home and playing Final Fantasy III, and that's just not normal. I have to be incredibly invested in the story, or excited about trying out a new game in a series I love, in order for me to get like that, and I can assure you that neither is the case here. Something else is afoot.

I've also been playing Dragon Warrior IV for the NES--and allow me to emphasize how rare it is for me to be playing two RPGs at once anymore--and I've also had strong cravings to go back and play.

I'm a little more interested in the story, and I like the characters a little better, but all the characters in your party, save for the leader, are on autopilot and can only be given broad tactical directives in combat such as "Defensive" and "Cast the instant death spell five times in a row against the boss that is CLEARLY IMMUNE TO INSTANT DEATH." Most of my teammates are morons, and I tell them so on a regular basis, though it doesn't seem to make a difference. As such, combat fluctuates between boring and frustrating, yet I periodically get revved up to play this game. None of this is normal at all!

Probably because I'm not in a very normal situation right now.

There's Big Life Stuff going on right now, some of which I've been planning for, and some of which completely blindsided me. Video games have always been a way for me to escape from the real world, blow off some steam, and be entertained enough to return to the real world with a positive attitude. This time, I find I'm in need of something predictable, steady, stable, and low-stress where I can take my time to plan and always be making some kind of progress. These two RPGs fit the bill perfectly.

Okay, so the characters in Dragon Warrior IV could stand to drink a little less moron juice, but otherwise the game fits the bill perfectly.

Even when the odds are against me and a challenge seems insurmountable, I can always go back and grind for XP until my characters have reached a level high enough to press on. Doesn't seem to work that way in real life--if somebody hands me a bill that's due immediately, I can't just leave the room to beat up wild animals until I've got the money to pay for everything, and then sleep at an inn for a few nights until I've mustered the strength to face reality. In the same way, escaping to video games isn't making these challenges go away, though it's helping to keep me relaxed and level-headed by being able to take a break from time to time.

I think that's really the key to all this: stay relaxed and level-headed. Nothing that's going on in my life will mean the end of the world (though there's predictions that the end is on its way anyhow), and there's nothing that won't get sorted out in good time. There's just too many things going on at once for my taste, but if it means that a video game genre I've long since tired of is finally becoming appealing again, then I might as well run with it.

1 comment:

Catie said...

I totally forgot about Final Fantasy III DS. I remember liking it and playing it a lot, but for some reason I suddenly stopped and left it unfinished for what... two or three years now? I wonder how much trouble I'd have getting back into it.

I've always had trouble getting into FFV. I borrowed the FF Anthology from my cousin and barely got anywhere in it. I had the GBA version still sealed for a very long time until last month when I thought I'd finally give it a try. But again, I can't get into it.

And I totally agree with you on the whole mashing the attack button point.