July 25, 2014

Final Fantasy III - Ranking

Story & World

It's no secret that I'm a huge Final Fantasy fan and a big part of that is due to this category.  I find the FF worlds to be chock full of character and whimsical quirkiness.  There are so many silly little interactions that never fail to bring a smile to my face.  For example, after completing the quest for the two horns that the dwarves wanted, one dwarf excitedly opens up the vault to allow the party access to its treasures.  But he doesn't just walk over and open it; oh no, he turns around and friggin' moonwalks down the hallway.  Cue peals of laughter from Shen.  All it took was a simple reversing of the direction the sprite would normally face to make it stand out.  I'm also a fan of RPGs where the protagonists are generally mutes as it allows me to easily project whatever personalities I want while playing.

Just like in FFII, NPCs will join the party but this time they don't help in combat or anything.  They just kinda hang around until the next portion of the story is complete and then they're gone.  The party can talk to them at any time and they usually just give a reminder as to what the party is suppose to be doing.  It would have been nice if they did something to affect combat, even if it was just a weak attack or spell every so often.  The Invincible at least had the courtesy to launch a cannon attack on enemies before every fight.

Locations and quests are varied enough that it never gets dull or repetitive; I always had a strong drive to find the next town just so that I could meet its inhabitants.  The story progression was mostly linear but there was a healthy sprinkling of side quests to do once the different airships are obtained (though they are all just either hidden towns or dungeon crawls for loot).  18/20

Character Development

From the standard static classes of FFI to the classless system of FFII, each Final Fantasy so far has made huge changes to the way characters are developed.  With its job-based system, FFIII sets the standard for the majority of Final Fantasy games to follow and is my favourite of the original trilogy.  I was impressed by the sheer number of jobs available, although some of the jobs have little to no staying power and are only useful for variety's sake.  As cool as the ninja and sage classes are, I think it would have been better to leave them out and instead make the endgame monsters give more experience so that the "lesser" jobs would just end up with more levels.  Sure, I could have just chosen not to use those classes and grind out those levels myself, but could you resist not choosing to be the ninja?  Yeah, that's what I thought.

As is par for the course, the variety of equipment and items is outstanding.  Lots of weapons and armour have a secondary ability, some of which have to be activated while others happen randomly during a regular attack.  It is extremely unfortunate that most weapon and armour types are tied exclusively to one particular job; a little overlap would have been most welcome.  16/20

Combat & Monsters

In addition to carrying over all the concepts from the previous game with a few tweaks here and there, FFIII adds another layer to tactical combat by allowing enemies to sometimes attack from the rear, causing front and back row characters to essentially switch positions.  Most character jobs also have special abilities that can be utilized in combat, such as the effective Escape of the thief or the pointless Peep of the scholar.  With the power to change jobs on demand (outside combat), party configuration is far more fluid and dynamic than the static setup of FFI and the grindfest that FFII requires.  The mad stacks of monsters carry on the FF tradition with a healthy variety of special attacks and resistances.  17/20

Graphics & Sound

It wouldn't be a Final Fantasy if it didn't have that Final Fantasy look, feel, and sound to it.  The NES trilogy had the same key developers for each game so it's no surprise that the excellence of the first two games is equally represented here.  I normally give a link to one of the many fantastic tracks, so here's one for the final battle18/20

Gameplay

Gils won't stay in the party's coffer for very long due to all the jobs available and their respective equipment sets.  The bank really starts to deplete if an all-melee party is made and has to depend on expensive healing potions to keep them going.  Even into the late game, when money usually becomes irrelevant, there's always the uber-expensive shurikens to purchase (and then forget to use).

Replayability is the highest in any game covered thus far; the combinations are near infinite since the party can be changed at any time.  There are so many different challenges one could attempt with the job system that it just boggles the mind.  One could attempt to keep all the characters as Onion Knights throughout, or do something a little less obvious and make a group based on the "hidden face" look of the character sprites (black mage, viking, geomancer, warlock, and magic knight).

As with the previous FFs, the overall pacing the game is spot on.  There are a few places where things could slow down, but that's only if the player refuses to change the jobs around.  There's no area that cannot be overcome just by doing a little planning and prepping beforehand.  18/20

Final Ranking:  87/100

July 18, 2014

Final Fantasy III - End Game

The Invincible has all the amenities that a party could possibly want, once you get past the fact that all four members have to share the same bed.  Full healing, storage on demand, and even four vending machines serving up some fairly powerful equipment and magic.

Also notice how well the sheng chi flows
around the fat yang of the Chocobo.

It flies much slower than the Nautilus but that just gives Shen all the more time to relax and take in the cool summer breeze whilst sipping on a Soft drink.  He doesn't chill for too long though, as the Cave of Darkness awaits with the last MacGuffin that Shen needs to break through the barriers to Zande's castle.  Yet again, this is another cave filled with splitter-type creatures and so the party goes through another job overhaul.  Splitters don't split if they get offed in one hit and karatekas have the skillz to do this shit.  They can spend a turn using their BuildUp ability, which increases the power of their next attack.  Two karatekas take the front line while a white and a black mage take up the rear to inflict status ailments such as sleep and confuse on the splitters.  The white mage also helps alleviate the consumption of HiPotions due to the inevitable ambushes and rear attacks.  The strategy proves to be decently effective and soon the party is on their way to Zande's lair, Sylx Tower.

Overcompensating for something, are we, Zande?

Before reaching the tower, however, another dungeon, called the Ancient's Labyrinth, has to be navigated.  Right near the entrance of this dungeon lies the Earth Crystal which gives up three new jobs: Warlock, Shaman, and Summoner.  These are not distinctive classes but rather replacements for the white mage, black mage, and conjurer jobs.  With this influx of magic power, the party continues on to Sylx Tower, blasting on fools who dare to stand in their way.  The rampage is cut short when the tower is reached, as the party encounters two barriers requiring keys that they do not have.  Well, I guess it's time to trudge all the way back through the Ancient's Labyrinth and revisit every location to see what I missed.  This ended up being fortuitous as Shen completes several side quests that were now accessible due to the Invincible's mountain-hopping ability.  First is the addition of the two most powerful summons, Leviathan and Bahamut, both located on the floating continent from way back at the beginning of the game.

Revenge is a dish best served
with hasted karate chops.

Back on the main world, Shen also discovers the hidden town of Fargabaad, which is full of mystic knights and stuff related to mystic knights.  A NPC here informs the group that the dark swords that a mystic knight uses will not cause a splitter-type to split.  Well, that information comes one Cave of Darkness too late, but at least someone can do the job now.  Since the summoner and black mage are both heavy on the damaging magicks, the mage gets dropped in favour of the summoner, whose spells look a lot cooler.

Does it get any better than a chocobo
kicking the crap out of a ninja?

So that's all fine and dandy, but what about getting the keys to access Sylx Tower?  The only place Shen hasn't revisited yet is Dorga's house and that's because he needs to use the Nautilus in order to get there.  The rest of the party has to drag poor Shen off his beloved Invincible and into the fucking Cockilus so they can visit Buttmunch and Dicksmack to get the keys or whatever.  Dorga and Unne spew some bull about how they need to fight the party in order to harness the energies necessary to create the keys.  Whatever, jerks, let's just do this so Shen can get back to his ride.

Jesus Christ you guys, your tile sprites
are misleading to say the least.

The Eureka Key allows access to a sacred land filled with legendary weapons, all of which are attached to a mini-boss fight.  Soon the party is up to their ankles in famous swords such as the Masamune and the Excaliber.  Also acquired here are the final two jobs of the game, Ninja and Sage.  These two make every other class obsolete; Ninja use all weapons and armour and Sages use all types of magic.  I made two of each and split up all the sweet new gear between the two ninja while making one sage uses pure white magic and the other a combination of white and calling magic.  All that's left is to ascend Sylx Tower and defeat Zande.  Confidence is high as the new jobs are pretty overpowered and the ninja are chop-sueying through enemies with ease.  When the party reaches Zande's antechamber, they are stopped by five demon dragons who paralyze the party into permanent paralysis.  All hope seems lost until Dorga shows up and informs the party that he'll go get help.  He rounds up five NPCs who are pure of heart, including Desh and Princess Sara from earlier in the game.  They keep the dragons distracted while the band of heroes carries on to take on Zande.  Zande gives a typical end boss speech about how great his plan is and then combat starts.  It's funny to think that Zande thought he could even defeat one ninja, let alone two.

The meglomania is strong with this one.

Barely breaking a sweat, Shen and friends dismantle Zande and are just about to break out some celebratory brewskis, when the REAL source of all this evil, Dark Cloud, shows itself.  Zande was just a pawn in this creature's vile plan to return all of existence to the Void.  No more good.  No more evil.  Just Void.  Dark Cloud can't be hit at all and soon the entire group is dead.  Or they would have been if Dorga and Unne didn't show yet again to save their asses.  The party chases Dark Cloud into the Dark World where another dungeon has to be navigated.  This time Shen and the other Warriors of Light have to find and enlist the help of their counterparts, the Dark Warriors, in order to make Dark Cloud susceptible to attacks.  Dark Cloud is pretty boring as far as an end boss goes; it just spams Flare Wave, dealing massive damage to everyone.

You'll be fine, Yauch, just walk it off.

The sages have their hands full keeping everyone's HP up, as they have to cure each member individually since spreading CUR4 to all members makes it much too weak (very glad I gave both sages high level white magicks).  The battle was also made more difficult in that I completely forgot to use any of the 25+ shurikens I had, which would have sped up the fight a touch.  Regardless, a dead Dark Cloud is a dead Dark Cloud, and after its demise, balance is restored and the eternal Void is avoided.  Cue the sequence where all the NPCs are returned to their respective homes to celebrate not being obliterated.

This pict... *sob*...  this picture is
all I've ever wanted out of life.

It's been quite the journey for our little onion knights.  Even though most of them had problems holding down a single job for any length of time, their ambition and fortitude allowed them to achieve greatness when all seemed at its bleakest.  When the Light was flickering at its weakest, these four young heroes knew in their heart of hearts that the one thing separate from light and dark was the one thing they could never lose — hope.  My personal hope is that Final Fantasy continues to deliver these solid titles.  We've seen a lot of innovation from the beginning trilogy and more than a few stumbles, but it'll be interesting to find out if the leap to the SNES will allow the franchise to improve on its predecessors and — oh, I don't know — create one of the greatest RPGs of all time.  I guess time will tell.


July 06, 2014

Final Fantasy III - Right Tool For The Job

As much as I enjoy making the characters swap their classes between all these fairly distinct jobs, their usefulness is entirely dependent on the equipment they have (even magic spells are equipped like regular items).  This isn't inherently bad as there is assloads of equipment all over the place.  The problem lies in that each class uses one type of weapon or armour and that one type is only usable by that one class (there are a few exceptions but it's low-level crap like leather armour).  There's no crossover even in jobs that one would expect to (why can't the magic knight use some of the same equipment as the knight?).  Continuing with the magic knight example, I haven't found a single weapon that that bastard is willing to use.  Looks like the M. Knight will have to go on the back burner, just like the thief class did previously.  Speaking of the thief, that class is boss now that there are some decent weapons for it.  I'm going to assume that when proper equipment does become available for the magic knight, that it'll kick some serious ass and is just being a class-tease for now.  One thing I do really like about the equipment restrictions is in regards to the magic spells.  Most of the newer classes can't use magic at all and those that can only have access to low level spells.  This means having to break out the initial black, white, or red mages if serious spellage is needed.  For taking on Goldor, I stuck with a melee-only party and relied on healing potions for fuel (an expensive proposition).  This strategy was fairly effective.

It also helped that his armour is MADE OF GOLD.

With the airship safely back in the party's possession, the world is their watery oyster.  There are no encounters while flying about (except in a few small areas) and being able to access other towns gives the group more equipment (and therefore jobs) to utilize (still nothing for magic knight, though).  One town had a pile of minstrels showcasing a variety of different tunes and melodies.

Meh.  I like my song better.

Then came the event that almost made me ragequit the game, the blog, and delete myself from the Internets kernel: while flying over the kingdom of Salonia — without warning — the airship was shot down and completely destroyed.  The king apparently has split his army into two factions and has ordered that they fight each other.  It is this crossfire that the airship blundered into and met its sad fate.  An airshipless Shen is like a wounded and cornered mother bear protecting her cubs while also on fire and on PCP.  In other words, Shen is right pissed off and someone must pay.

Completely obliterating both sides
should ease the pain.

But no, attacking the armies isn't a viable option and so broken-hearted Shen must do some damn quest to help these assholes out.  The cool thing about Salonia is that, in addition to the castle itself, there are four boroughs each the size of a regular town.  Unfortunately, most of the shops are closed and Shen'll have to do this quest in order to open them up.  Talking to the townsfolk reveals that a legendary bird monster named Garuda has taken over the castle and can only be defeated by a dragoon.  Well, let's just check our inventory and... ack, dammit, no dragoon equipment.  Thankfully, one of the Salonian boroughs has an entire tower dedicated to dragoons and pillaging it gives up the equipment needed.  Now to get the revenge on Garuda for inadvertently destroying the airship.

So, ya like flying, do ya, Garuda?
WELL, SO DID I! *weeps uncontrollably*

Getting the revenge turns out to be a little difficult as Garuda ain't no joke.  He likes to cast the thunder spell on the entire party, which can drop their HP to about half.  Defeating him took a couple of attempts as I employed the terrible strategy of letting Shen do all the attacking while the others constantly gave each other healing potions.  Yeah, probably should have switch the jobs up a bit but I just wanted Garuda dead ASAP.  After Garuda's demise, the real king is reinstated on the throne and all of Salonia's equipment and magic shops are open for business.  More importantly, talking to the Salonian scholars nets the party another airship called the Nautilus, whose name foreshadows its future ability.  For now, the party heads through a windy mountain passage that was previously inaccessible due to the poor aerodynamic design of the former airship.  The passage leads to the castle of Dorga, who explains that a wizard named Zande is behind all the troubles the world is having.  Dorga, Zande, and a woman named Unne were all students of the great archmage Noah.  When Noah died, he gave Dorga and Unne gifts of magic but gave Zande the "gift" of mortality.  Totally feeling burned by getting such a shitty present, Zande concocted a plan to drain the elemental crystals of their energy so that time would freeze and immortality would be his again.  He succeeded in draining the Earth and Water crystals but the Fire and Air crystals were located on the floating continent, which was also created during this time.

Uh huh... blah blah blah — hey, is
that the first ever appearance
of a Moogle over there?

Unne is currently asleep and stuck in her dream world and can only be awoken with Noah's Lute which is in the underwater Temple of Time.  In order to make the Nautilus submersible, Dorga asks the party to accompany him through the Magic Circle Cave which has to be done in mini-mode again.  I didn't bother to make everyone into spellcasters and just relied on T-Bone's thief ability of Escape to bypass all the encounters (fuck I'm getting lazy).  At the end of the cave, true to his word, Dorga outfits the Nautilus with some oxygen and ballast tanks and she's all set to dive, dive, dive!

♫ Darling it's better, down where it's
wetter, take it from meeee! ♪

Shen decides to go all Jacques Cousteau-like and explore the briny deep.  The detail is nice with bubbles and various seafoods floating across the screen in a wavy motion.  A couple of undersea caves are found and those always have large deposits of the treasurey kind, but the monsters are a little tough so they're earmarked for a later excursion.  Temple of Time it is, then.  The temple isn't much better as the monsters often either surprise the party (getting a free round of attacks) or sneak up behind them (getting a free round as the melee-only party alters their row position).  Come on, guys, you're all level 25+ by now, you'd think you'd have learnt to keep your bloody eyes peeled for ambushes.  Especially considering the sheer size of some of the monsters.

Hey, I remember you from such
games as Final Fantasy II.

Astute readers may have noticed that T-Bone and Yauch have switched jobs at this point, even though it means reducing their skills in the new job down to one.  This is because hit point gains are based off the vitality stat and the Karateka job has about twice VIT as the thief.  I like to keep the maximum HP fairly even across the group (though I don't mind if Shen outpaces the others but that's because I'm a raging narcissist).  The drop in skill doesn't seem to hinder the job too much, just a reduction in hit percentage of about 10% or so per ~25 skill points or somewhere around there (sorry, data nerds, I've gots no hard numbers for ya).  All that matters is that this means that I'm far more likely to be loose with my job swapping which is precisely what a game like this should be encouraging.  Further on that note, running out of capacity points has almost never been an issue.  The only time I ran out was when I had just acquired the Water Crystal's jobs and had to switch a bunch of times because there was no damn equipment for the job.

Eventually the party makes their way to the end of the temple and acquire Noah's Lute with no real hardships.  The random encounters were mostly just annoying with all the free attacks the enemies were getting, mostly because it meant using a lot of expensive healing potions.  Thankfully, they can now put that behind them and bring back Unne from the Dream World.  Unne tells Shen about an airship named the Invincible aaaaand that's when Shen cuts Unne off, grabs her by the arm, drags her to the Nautilus, looks at her dead in the eyes, and asks her as politely as he can, despite the frothing excitement seething just below his surface, the location of said airship.  Shen also mentions that perhaps they should make their way there posthaste, as the seams in the groin of his leather pantaloons are already straining near maximum capacity.  The Invincible lies just to the north in some Ancient Ruins.  Thought the Temple of Time was bad?  Not only do the monsters in the ruins surprise and rear ambush just as much, half of them are "splitter" type creatures that create a duplicate whenever they get hit.  With an all-melee party, shit can get real. 

Real quick.

So, at this point I have to decide to just work Yauch's Escape ability or grind a few levels to get more reliable one-hit kills.  I really didn't want to do the fleeing thing because heroes shouldn't have to flee from 50% of the battles.  I noticed that every couple of levels, the number of attacks for a character would increase by two.  Everyone had just reached one of these benchmark levels, so I decided I'd just grind up two more levels and then take on the ruins again.  When the levels came and the number of attacks didn't increase, I thought maybe at the higher levels the number of attacks was doubled or something.  So another two levels and no increase.  I did one more level because why not, hey, maybe it's five levels until the next increase.  Never once did I consider that perhaps there was a cap on number of attacks for each job.  The other stat benefits from levelling don't help near as much as attack number so I made another karateka to replace the low-damage thief, Yauch.  Karateka is one of the few classes that function very well unarmed, which was critical in my choice as I didn't have enough decent claws for two karatekas.  Shen needed more maximum HP so he passed his dragoon job and gear to Yauch and became a karateka alongside T-Bone, who by this time had a skill level of 49.  As the more senior member of the two, imagine poor T-Bone's shock when Shen demanded all of T-Bone's equipment while he was left unarmed but free to wear some of the leftover armours.  T-Bone may have the toughest-sounding name but Shen let it be known just who wears the pantaloons in this family.  With a hefty amount of firepower behind the party now, the Ancient Ruins proved difficult but not insurmountable.  The reward for all this hassle, though, was well worth it.

Huhhh-ugghhhh!

Please join me next time when I will spend the entire post critiquing and evaluating the Invincible's inner decor and adherence to proper feng shui principles.  Tally-ho!