Review: Final Fantasy VI

ff6-gba-na-5B1-5D1

Here we are with the third and last Final Fantasy title in the 16-bit era. Final Fantasy VI. This game also marks the end of the “number confusion”. Originally released in the US as Final Fantasy III, this was the west’s second taste of 16-bit FF glory.

These days, there’s a few options for the people looking to play the game. The original FF3 version is available on the Wii virtual console. The playstation network sports another, better rendition of the game, complete with the correct title and an improved translation. However, the latest release is Final Fantasy VI advance for the GBA. This version features updated visuals, improved translation as well as some additional content (spells, espers and optional dungeon). Having never played this version before, I chose the GBA version for this playthrough.

The game begins with two Imperial soldiers escorting a mysterious girl into a town. The three of them are piloting walking war-machines (aka Magi-Tech Armor). It is revealed that they have been sent to capture a frozen beast, known as an Esper, that was recently uncovered on the outskirts of town. The three of them encounter resistance from the locals and it is revealed that girl is under some sort of mind control. The Esper reacts to the attack and fights back, in the scuffle, the mind control over the girl is broken. But she is suffering from a case of amnesia. She is taken in by a local who recruits her into a secret group of rebels. The story unfolds from here…

final-fantasy-vi-advance-5B1-5D

Like it’s predecessors, Final Fantasy VI features a lush and brilliantly crafted storyline. It is often considered to be one of the best in the series. The game features a cast of characters that are impossible to forget, each with their own background and personality. While this has become a staple of the series, it really shines here. This game also features one of the most sadistic and insane arch-villains in video game history. I’m not going to spoil anything, but even in the old days where Nintendo censored just about everything, the wartime tactics of Kefka were jaw-dropping.

As if the story wasn’t enough, it’s made even more potent due to the amazing game soundtrack. Again, I’m tempted to say it is also, best in the series. I’ve been told that some selections of the score are even taught in Japanese schools beside other classical music masterpieces.

930370_20070618_640screen015

The graphics are certainly a step up from FFIV and V. These are slightly improved again in the GBA version. Detail on the character sprites are done pretty well, but most gorgeous art in the game comes from the scenery and monster art.

Much like Final Fantasy IV, there are no pre-set character jobs, but each character has their own role and set of skills. In early parts of the game, your hand is held a bit when it comes to party formation, but later on in the title you have the ability to create a group using the entire roster. This is where personal preference and deep understanding of each character and their abilities really shines.

Having played this time a number of times over the years, I was excited to see what changes the GBA version brought. There are four new Espers available to Terra as wells a several spells and a new dungeon. The dungeon features an optional and ultimate boss, the Kaiser Dragon. This boss is legendary among fans because it was discovered to have been coded into the original game, but there was no way to encounter it. Apparently cut out of the title at the last minute, it is finally available for those wanting a real challenge.

930370_20070618_640screen004

Difficulty: Medium  – This game is on par with the rest of the series. The patient will survive. Players can grind their way to ease if they really feel so inclined. But the real trick to the game is learning each character and their abilities and then applying them to overcome obstacles. The new optional content in the GBA is quite difficult and is really included for veteran players.

Story: Final Fantasy VI features what can arguably be called one of the greatest RPG storylines of all time, and I’m not exaggerating. It’s that good. My summary above covers about the first five minutes of the game, if I were to try to summarize this entire plot, we’d be here for hours. And the kicker is, there’s never a dull moment. This was the title that showed the world why Final Fantasy would become synonymous with RPG genre as a whole.

Originality: In reality, there’s not a lot of new ideas brought to the table. Everything in this title, storyline aside, has been seen elsewhere in the series. However, the biggest difference here is that everything has now been polished to perfection.

Soundtrack: One of Uematsu’s best works, and arguably one of the best game soundtracks to date. I literally have three different version of the game soundtrack in my personal library. Everything about the music in this game is sheer perfection. It’s truly art.

Fun: This is one game that never leaves me disappointed. It’s very fun and addictive title. So much so that it is often the title I recommend to those looking for a starting point in the series. The story sucks you in and the gameplay makes sure you don’t let go until the very end.

Graphics: Again, an improvement of the previous entry in the series. This game pretty much set the bar for RPGs in terms of what to expect visually. As I mentioned above, the monster art and scenery are amazing. The Mystic Forest area of the game was, at it’s time, breathtaking.

Playcontrol: As with most RPGs, control is not an issue. All works as it should with one exception. The character Sabin features some special abilities that rely on fighting-style button combos to execute. While these are fairly easy to input on Nintendo style gamepads, I’ve found them to be a bit trickier on Sony hardware. Nothing major, but worthy of mention.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – For many players, myself included, this game *IS* Final Fantasy. I am a fan of the entire series, but for me, VI represents everything that made the series great. The storyline, the music, the art – it’s all here. If you are looking to escape reality, or if you’re curious what all the hype is about, this is the game to play.

Currently available on:  Wii Virtual Console and PSN.

Other Reviews In This Series:

IIIIIIIVVVI VIIVIIIIXXX2XIXII XIIIXIII 2XIII Lightning Returns XIV – XV 

IV: After YearsVII: Dirge of CerberusVII: Crisis CoreVII: Advent Children (Movie)XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s TaleXV: Brotherhood (Anime)XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia – Dissidia 012

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Dimensions – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight 

Review: Final Fantasy V

930369_75107_front-5B1-5D

Onward with the 16-bit Final Fantasy playthrough, we have one of the more obscure entries in the early series, Final Fantasy V. Again, this is another title that was not available in the US upon it’s original release. Released in 1992, North American players did not get a taste of the game until 1999 when the game was bundled with Final Fantasy VI for a Playstation compilation called the Final Fantasy Anthology. This collection was my first taste of the game.

Sadly, I can’t claim it was a very enjoyable experience. I never owned an original Playstation. My first Sony system was the Playstation 2. Final Fantasy V and the PS2 didn’t get along very well. There was a terrible graphical corruption bug that would rear it’s ugly head 90% of the time you tried to save or load your game in FFV. This only occurred on the PS2. Determined not to let that hold me back, I eventually memorized the layout of the save screen and was able to save the game blindly.

Luckily, this issue was eliminated with a later release for the Game Boy Advance. For the sake of this playthrough (and my sanity), I used the GBA version. Like many of the other re-releases in the series, the remake contains some content not found in the original game. Aside from a much improved translation, the GBA version also includes four new jobs (more on this later) and as usual, an optional dungeon.

Before continuing, I will note that while I consider the GBA remake to be the definitive version of the game, there is actually a newer version of FFV released on iOS. Personally, I don’t consider iPhones or iPads to be viable gaming devices. I play and enjoy iOS games, but I feel like playing something like Final Fantasy on a touch-screen is far from ideal. That being said, the iOS version features improved graphics. There has been talk of a 3DS version, but at the time of this writing, nothing has materialized.

3-11gsqhu-5B1-5D

Final Fantasy V focuses very heavily on story. This playthrough took me over 40 hours, the longest so far. The game focuses mainly on a young man named Bartz and his pet chocobo. Bartz witnesses the crash of a meteor in a nearby forest and decides to investigate. There he meets a strange old man who is seemingly suffering from amnesia. The two travel together to a nearby kingdom where their adventure begins. Throughout the game’s story, more heroes join the fold and team learns that a magical seal that has long kept an evil warrior at bane has been shattered. As one might imagine, there’s a lot more to it than that, and like all the other games in the series, the story should be experienced firsthand and not read.

One interesting element this game brings back is the Job System from FFIII. Throughout the game new lobs are unlocked and can be assigned to characters at will. Over time, skills from the job equipped can be permanently learned by that character. The original release of the game contained 22 jobs, while the GBA version has 26.

16-1znstid-5B1-5D

Graphically, the game is on par with FFIV. The GBA version does feature slightly smoother graphics, but nothing too noticeable. When it comes to music, the game has some interesting pieces. Overall, the soundtrack is fitting and very well done, but I do feel is pales in comparison to the wonderful score of Final Fantasy IV.

With me, typically, my favorite part of playing a Final Fantasy game is the story and the atmosphere. This game, is an odd exception. My favorite part about FFV is actually the gameplay. The Job System is very well done and lots of fun. Grinding away to unlock abilities might be part of what made my playthrough so long. The storyline of FFV is great, don’t misunderstand. There’s plenty of twists and turns to keep you interested, but overall, it is probably my least favorite. Many people may disagree, but that’s just my opinion. It’s hard to follow up a game like Final Fantasy V, and I feel like it shows with this title.

finalfantasyvadvanced_neoexdeath_02-5B1-5D

Difficulty: Medium  – The same rules apply here as with the rest of the series, patience is key. Mastering the Job System is the trick to the whole game. In today’s world of digital hand-holding, I wonder how that will sit with many younger players. For this reason, I feel that FFV is a little harder than other entries in the early series. But still, overall much easier to master than some of the twitchy platformers of the 16bit era.

Story: Final Fantasy V features a very rich and detailed story. It’s excellent, but just not as good as I expected. Don’t get me wrong, even the worst Final Fantasy storyline beats most other RPGs hands down. It just didn’t light the same fire in me as other titles in the series. Regardless, the game does have some very memorable characters. Lenna always puts a smile on my face.

Originality: A lot of this game is borrowed from other titles, and that’s ok. The job system is revamped enough from FFIII to seem original. But other elements of the game do tend to fall into the “standard Final Fantasy experience”.

Soundtrack: Good score, but not great. Not my favorite that’s for sure.

Fun: As I stated earlier, the job system can be a lot of fun even if the rest of the game drags a bit. I did enjoy my time playing the game, but I felt like it was a little too long

Graphics: The graphics are about what you’d expect. The GBA provide a nice little boost and of course the iOS version is beautiful. It’s a mixed bag depending on the version you’re playing. I do feel that the original developers could have been able to squeeze a little more “pretty” out of the game if they tried harder. But, the art is certainly acceptable.

Playcontrol: As with most RPGs, control is not an issue. All works as it should.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – As I mentioned, FFV is a good game. If you’re a fan of the series, it’s certainly worthy of playing. Personally, I don’t feel it reflects the best the series has to offer. Even though it is currently out of print, if you can get your hands on the GBA version, this is the one I recommend. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a more modern remake.

Currently available on:  PSN

Other Reviews In This Series:

IIIIIIIVVVI VIIVIIIIXXX2XIXII XIIIXIII 2XIII Lightning Returns XIV – XV 

IV: After YearsVII: Dirge of CerberusVII: Crisis CoreVII: Advent Children (Movie)XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s TaleXV: Brotherhood (Anime)XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia – Dissidia 012

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Dimensions – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight 

Collective Review: Final Fantasy IV & Final Fantasy IV: The After Years

615911_197545_front-5B1-5D

Finally, my reviews have reached an important milestone in the era of 16-bit gaming. The first Final Fantasy title for the Super Nintendo. Final Fantasy IV was originally released in the US under name “Final Fantasy II”, since the second and third installment of the series were not originally brought stateside, it was believed that renaming the title would be a good idea and the American audience would be none the wiser. Of course, as years went by and the Internet became a common way to share information, the cat was eventually out of the bag. These days, the game is properly titled and it widely available  under it’s proper name.

When preparing to the do this playthrough and review, I had an important decision to make. There are many versions of this game available, and I had to decide which to use. To bring everyone up to speed, I’ll layout what’s out there:

Final Fantasy II (Wii Virtual Console) – This is the original version of the game, as it was released on the SNES

Final Fantasy Chronicles – This was the playstation release. It features the original game, with the proper title and a slightly improved translation.

Final Fantasy IV Advance – Improved Graphics, Improved script, New optional dungeon

Final Fantasy IV DS – 3D graphics version of the game, Improved translation, mini-games, cutscenes

Final Fantasy IV Complete Collection – Improved 2D graphics, DS Script, optional areas, “Interlude”, “After Years”

There’s a little something for everyone out there. For purists, I recommend the Chronicles version of the game. For the sake of this playthrough, I decided to use the Complete Collection. It was a version of the game I’ve not encountered before. Plus, it includes both After Years and the all-new Interlude scenarios. (More on these later)

9-Cecil_Rosa-5B1-5D Cutscene from Complete  Collection

Regardless of the version you choose, the focus of this review is on the game itself, not any particular one feature.

This game holds a lot of great memories for me. FFIV was the title that really cemented RPGs as one of my favorite genre of games. The storyline is nothing short of fantastic. The game revolves around a knight by name of Cecil. When game begins, Cecil is the captain of an elite Air Force known as the Red Wings. He is ordered to strike and steal a powerful crystal from a nearby village. After carrying out his orders, Cecil begins to question the nature of the orders given to him. Cecil is reprimanded for his lack of loyalty and as punishment is sent on a task that ultimately leads to adventure and redemption.

There’s so much to tell about the rich storyline and characters of this game, but I think it’s best experienced during play and not read in a summary.

snes-final-fantasy-2-4-5B1-5D
  Screenshot from the original SNES version

The gameplay will be very familiar to fans of the series. For the most part, the game functions and plays much like Final Fantasy I-III. Unlike FFIII, however, there are no “jobs” to select. Each character has a predetermined role and will skill up in the areas of their expertise as you progress.  The character development in this title was second to none, considering it’s time. Each character has a very detailed backstory that is revealed throughout the normal progression in the game. I can’t stress enough how much of a breakthrough the storytelling in this title was. It was unlike anything that had been seen.

Also, much like the previous games, Final Fantasy IV features a phenomenal soundtrack. Again, composed completely by Nobuo Uetmatsu.

Graphically, the game was pretty standard at the time of release. The character sprites are clear, as is most of the environment. I found some of the textures to be a bit repetitive and unimaginative at times. But overall, there’s not much to complain about. Later versions of the game have brought drastically improved visuals.

615911_20110412_screen008-5B1-5D
  Screenshot from the Complete Collection

The game proved to be quite a success, and many years after it’s original release, it spawned a direct sequel. Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, as released in episodic downloadable chapters on the Wii in 2009. This game take placed 17 years after the original and features both the aged heroes from the first game, as well as their offspring. In reality, I should probably dedicate a separate review just to this title, but there are enough similarities that I feel I can bundle them together

Originally spread out over 11 separate chapters, each typically focusing on a particular character or set of characters, players can complete the scenario and then spend time seeking powerful treasure in an “endgame” dungeon. Eventually data from all the scenarios is compiled and used in the final chapter.

30-002i026-5B1-5D
  Screen shot from Wii version of The After Years

Finally, If you’re playing the Complete Collection, there is an additional short scenario called “Interlude” that serves as a link between the original game and the After Years. This was my first time getting my hands on this chapter and while I found it be enjoyable, it’s very short and really doesn’t bring much to the table. But, it’s included and certainly doesn’t lessen the experience.

3-Interlude003-5B1-5D
  Screen shot of  ~Interlude~

Again, I have to stress that this a classic RPG and an overall excellent game. It doesn’t matter which version you can get your hands on, you’re in for quite an experience.

Difficulty: Medium  – As typical with RPGs, most of the game itself is fairly straight forward and easy going for those with a little bit of patience. Several of the bonus areas, and added content found in the later releases can be much more challenging, however.

Story: As I mentioned, the storyline for Final Fantasy IV is fantastic all the way around. Both in terms of detail and content. The storyline is even further enhanced in later versions of the games. The original SNES cartridge could only hold so much data, so a lot of the original script had to be cut from the game for space reason. Regardless, even the old version is fantastic. But to get the most out the title, I do recommend either FFIV Advance or The Complete Collection.

Originality: Mechanic-wise, there’s not a lot new introduced in the title. The 16 bit art and enhanced sound really bring a breath of fresh air to the title though. I don’t find any faults here.

Soundtrack: Excellent score. Probably the best in the series so far. Uematsu never ceases to amaze.

Fun: Many wonderful, comforting memories of this game rattle around in my brain. The characters and storyline really make this game a lot of fun. The special effects are great, the SUMMONS are awesome. Who doesn’t enjoy unleashing Ifrit on a group of cowering enemies?

Graphics: The original released featured nice, acceptable graphics for its time. However, later entries in the series and other 16 bit RPGs eventually surpassed it. The more modern versions of the game are much lovelier to look at and feature richer, more detailed models.

Playcontrol: As with most RPGs, control is not an issue. All works as it should.

Overall rating (out of four stars): (FFIV – 4)  (The After Years – 3) – Separating the review into two titles, the original game gets a perfect score. This is defiantly a must-play title for RPG enthusiasts.  The After Years, however, is a bit harder to recommend to general audiences. This game is a more fan-service than anything else. I enjoyed it, and it was very nice to revisit the world and characters again after so many years. But it did feel a bit thrown together. If you decide to experience the After Years, I recommend the PSP version over the multiple pricey downloads on the Wii.

Currently available on:  Wii Virtual Console, PSP, PSN

Other Reviews In This Series:

IIIIIIIVVVI VIIVIIIIXXX2XIXII XIIIXIII 2XIII Lightning Returns XIV – XV 

IV: After YearsVII: Dirge of CerberusVII: Crisis CoreVII: Advent Children (Movie)XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s TaleXV: Brotherhood (Anime)XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia – Dissidia 012

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Dimensions – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight 

Review: Final Fantasy II

937910_84493_front-5B1-5D

Man oh man, where to begin. Final Fantasy II is an interesting game to review. First of all, it did not see an official release in the US until sometime around 2001 or 2002. Up until that time, all we had were really bad hacked, fan-translated ROMs. The first official version released in the US was in the form of Final Fantasy Origins. I remember how excited I was when that game came out… In fact, it was the main reason I bought a PS2. I had seen the game in its original 8bit form during my time in Japan, but being unable to read Japanese, I knew little about the plot. All I knew is that there was a sequel to Final Fantasy that I was missing out on. Eventually, a game was released called Final Fantasy 2… Sadly, it knew right from the start it was NOT the same Final Fantasy II I had seen before.

(In a nutshell, Nintendo of American skipped over the second and third entries in the series and renamed Final Fantasy IV to Final Fantasy 2 for introduction to the western audience. It’s a long story.)

ff2-300x261-5B1-5D
   Original JP Version
 

There have been two other versions of the game released in the US since the Origins bundle. The Dawn of Souls version for the GBA, and the anniversary edition for the PSP. It is important to note that the GBA and PSP versions have a much superior script. The names of the characters are more accurately translated. For example: Gus is retranslated as Guy, Mindu is correct as Minwu, and Gareth is actually known as Ricard in all versions except for the Origins. (A Japanese friend told me once his name is Japan is “Rikadu”, so I don’t know where they got Gareth from.) So, as far as translations go, the PSP version is by far the best. It is considered by almost everyone to be the definitive version due to the graphical updates and the polished script.

One difference to note is the adjustment to the difficulty level. While the PS version remains untouched from it’s 8bit roots, the latter two have a reduced level of difficulty. They are cakewalk compared to the Famicom or Origins version. That being said, the introductions of the “Soul of Rebirth” scenario (from the GBA version) and additional optional content found in the PSP add a new level of challenge above that found in the main scenario.

 
937910_20070608_screen001-5B1-5D 

This game in many ways is big improvement over the original Final Fantasy. The soundtrack is marvelous, albeit a little repetitive. Whereas the original game was weak on story, this game almost has too much going on. My big gripe is the character advancement system. There is no such thing as a “level”, instead characters improve in the abilities that they use the most, or the weapons they wield more often. I think Square had their thinking in the right direction, but it just didn’t turn out as good as they planned. Regardless, it was a very innovative idea at the time.

Despite my griping, I enjoyed the game immensely. I mean, after all, this is the game where the lovable Chocobos were debuted! The story line focuses on four main characters for most of the game: Firion, Maria, Guy and Leon. The game begins with the four youths being attacked by black knights from the evil kingdom of Palamecia. The are left for dead at the conclusion of the battle but three of them are rescued by a group of rebels. Leon was not discovered among them.

937910_20071102_screen004-5B1-5D 

As the story progresses, the heroes are thrown into the ranks of the rebellion against the empire where the truth regarding the source of the Empire’s power is revealed. The heroes ultimately prevail against the demonic Emperor by confronting him in his palace located in the depths of hell itself!

In the later versions of the game, a short add-on scenario is unlocked upon the completion of the main title The Soul of Rebirth mission allows players to experience a new adventure featuring several of the fallen heroes from the main game. The difficulty of this scenario is greater than that of the main game, and is intended as a challenge for experienced players.

 untitled
 

Difficulty: Medium – Much like the original game in the series, the modern day version is quite a bit easier that the original 8bit release. However, again, the PSP version adds a new extremely challenging dungeon. And the Soul of Rebirth chapter is no walk in the park.

Story: The storyline here is much more in depth that the first entry in the series. The dialogue is engaging in a way that’s usual for more RPG. There is a bank of special keywords that you can mention during some NPC conversations that trigger events or allow you to obtain new information. I’ve heard some claim that the storyline is, on its surface, a blatant rip off of Star Wars (rebel alliance vs. an evil empire), but I found this is not so much the case.

Originality: This game took everything that was good about Final Fantasy and combined it with more in-depth storyline. The character advancement system, despite its flaws, was a bold step towards a more realistic system of character progression.

Soundtrack: Another classic soundtrack. The Rebel Theme alone is a masterpiece. If you remember any one thing about this game, it’s more than likely going to be the wonderful music included.

Fun: This game for me, is a quite an enjoyable experience. Sadly, due to its belated release in the US, it has been largely ignored by the masses. I personally find the game to bring a lot of enjoyment.

Graphics: Much like the original game, the graphics of this title have been improved upon with each subsequent release. The PS1 version of the game featured sprites that were on par with the SNES games in the series. The PSP remake beings the art up another notch. There’s a lot of beauty to be found in the modern versions.

Playcontrol : This is not really an issue with this type of game.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 Stars – I am a firm supporter of this title. I think it’s an unrecognized masterpiece. Everything from the lush soundtrack to the engaging storyline is top notch in my book.

Available today on: PSN (Origins), and PSP.

Other Reviews In This Series:

IIIIIIIVVVI VIIVIIIIXXX2XIXII XIIIXIII 2XIII Lightning Returns XIV – XV 

IV: After YearsVII: Dirge of CerberusVII: Crisis CoreVII: Advent Children (Movie)XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s TaleXV: Brotherhood (Anime)XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia – Dissidia 012

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Dimensions – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight 

Review: Final Fantasy

522595_28411_front-5B1-5D finalfantasyanniversaryedition_PSP-5B1-5D Final-Fantasy-Origins-BOX-255B1-255D

Aside from covering the random new release such as Sleeping Dogs and Tomb Raider, it is still a main focus of mine to re-live my early gamer days by chronicling my favorite games of yesteryear in a semi-accurate timeline. So far in the blog, I’ve covered my gaming experience starting with my days in a coin-op arcade, then moving on to first-gen home consoles like the Atari 2600, to the godfather of them all the NES. Sure, I’ve gone off on a few tangents like my Mega Man and Castlevania series playthroughs, in which I skipped around between various generations, but I’ve tried to keep a semi-linear timeline as the overall theme. Before moving on from the NES to the Gameboy days, I would be amiss if I didn’t take the time to remember what may be one of the most legendary 8bit RPGS of all time. Final Fantasy.

I can’t remember which game I experienced first, Final Fantasy or Wizardry. I was introduced to both of them around the same time in my life. I was living in Japan at the time Final Fantasy was released and I remember asking for it on a whim. I had never heard anything about it, and I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was not disappointed. The summer after my 6th grade year was spent either at the beach or in my room jamming to Paula Adbul (don’t ask) and grinding away at Final Fantasy. I put that game through it’s paces. Trying every combination of character class, exploring every nook and cranny, and leveling, leveling, leveling.

I’ve bought this game in one form or fashion many times of the years. In my current collection I have Final Fantasy 1 in the following formats:  NES, PS1, GBA, and PSP.

For this review I decided to play the most modern rendition, the PSP version. Aside from a few added dungeons, a sight modernization of the spell system, and a few extra monsters, the game is largely unchanged from the original in terms of gameplay. All of the new optional content can be found pretty much in one out-of-the-way dungeon and thus easily avoided if you’re a purist. The main reason to suggest one of the more modern versions is of course the sound and graphical upgrade. For the 20th anniversary release, Square Enix has really taken the time to make this game shine. To break it down:

For purists, the original 8 bit version will always standout.
For gamers who want original content, but updated sound a graphics, I recommend the PS version.
For people who want the best translation the most definitive version of the game I recommend the PSP version.
The GBA version falls somewhere in the middle.

ff1-tiamat-255B1-255D Final-Fantasy-I-Psp-1-5B1-5D

 Original NES Version    vs    Modern PSP remake
 

This is the game that started it all. At the time it was released it was a fantasy game unlike any ever seen. The storyline is simple; Four youths awake on a beach just outside of a grand kingdom. Each one possesses a dim crystal and has no memory of who they are. Throughout the game, they learn that the world is slowing being drained of its elemental power that their arrival has been prophesied as the ones who will restore order by bringing light to their faded crystals.

What starts off a simple tale of fantasy soon becomes quite a complicated plot involving a demon-possessed knight, a hidden conclave of sages, and a one thousand-year time loop that keeps repeating over and over and over…. yeah.

The player gets to choose from four of six classes when creating their character:

Warrior, Thief, Monk, Red Mage, White Mage, and Black Mage.*  (In the original English version Warrior is known as Fighter, and Monk as Black Belt)* — These classes can later be leveled up to Knight, Ninja, Master, Red Wizard, White Wizard and Black Wizard.

Unlike the other games in the series, there are no default names provided to the characters. The biggest trick to the game is learning how to manage 4 different characters in a variety of situations. It’s a strategy game. You learn the strengths and weaknesses of each party member and how to compensate. How to exploit the weaknesses of your enemies, etc.

ff1_42-5B1-5D
To me, this game is a gem. But surprisingly there are many that disagree and cite the title’s weaknesses compared to future games in the series. One this most everyone agrees on, however, is the magic of the game soundtrack. Composed by Nobuo Uematsu It was pretty impressive for an 8-bit system, and the subsequent remakes have really brought a whole new level of wonder to the soundtrack with fully orchestrated music. In my opinion, Uematsu is a very talented composer. If he been born several centuries prior, perhaps he’d receive the level of praise he deserves.

This game included many things that would remain staples in the FF series as a whole. The diff jobs, characters and monsters that would reappear in later games, and the eco-friendly theme all started here.

Despite having played this game from start to finish over a dozen times in my life, I had a blast playing this title again. The new PSP exclusive dungeon and bosses were quite a refreshing challenge.

final-fantasy-1-5B1-5D

Difficulty: MediumThe modern day version of the game is quite a bit easier that the original 8bit release. That being said, the PSP version adds a new extremely challenging dungeon. Many people have been critical of the watered-down difficulty of the modern remakes, but honestly, I think it makes for a good starting point for players new to the series.

Story: On it’s surface, the game story seems simplistic, but as you progress it becomes quite deep and convoluted. In the end, I’m not even sure I understand the subtle details of the whole time-loop scenario. The story is unfolded only by talking to NPCs.

Originality: For computer gaming, this was the start of something new. It was culture clash of both western D&D style fantasy and the exotic Japanese anime style. The game itself combined the overhead view introduced in games like Legend of Zelda with a framed, menu-driven combat system. It was the start of a new era

Soundtrack: Fantastic, catchy tunes. Just as enjoyable on the original 8bit hardware as they are performed by a full symphony orchestra.

Fun: For me, this game is top tier. It doesn’t seem to get old. For anyone just getting into the RPG scene, I always recommend this game and a nice introduction. All of the core elements are here in one form or another. It’s a perfect litmus test for the aspiring RPG gamer. Hours of enjoyment. 

Graphics: The original release is a bit rugged in many spots, even for it’s time. But considering all the things on the screen at once, it could have been worse. Over the years, the game has been improved upon. First, by giving SNES quality graphics and then upgraded even further.

Playcontrol : This is not really an issue with this type of game.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 Stars – To me, this is one of the all-time classic NES titles. A must have really, regardless of the system you want to play it on. Perhaps I’m biased, but Final Fantasy is one of the greatest games of all time.

Available today on: Wii Virtual Console, PSN, and PSP.

Other Reviews In This Series:

IIIIIIIVVVI VIIVIIIIXXX2XIXII XIIIXIII 2XIII Lightning Returns XIV – XV 

IV: After YearsVII: Dirge of CerberusVII: Crisis CoreVII: Advent Children (Movie)XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s TaleXV: Brotherhood (Anime)XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia – Dissidia 012

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Dimensions – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight 

Review: Mega Man & Bass

589568_51683_front-5B1-5D

Next up in the series, we have Mega Man & Bass. This is a title that was originally released in Japan on the SNES, but didn’t see the light of day in the USA for many years later when it was released as a GBA title.

Even though the game’s was released on the SNES originally, it occurs after the PS title Mega Man 8. Many of the animations and sprite-art actually seems to come straight out of Mega Man 7.

028A016D00153074-c2-photo-oYToxOntzOjE6InciO2k6NjUwO30-megaman-and-bass-5B1-5D

In this game, the new freak of the week is a new robot named King. King steals a bunch of plans from the Robot Museum with the intention transforming the world into a robot utopia free of human control. Naturally, Mega Man steps up to ward off this threat. Optionally, the player can also choose to play as Bass. In this scenario, Bass decides to defeat King as a way to prove he is more powerful than Mega Man.

Eventually, it is revealed that King is actually a creation of Dr. Wily. Once both King and Dr. Wily are defeated, Bass asks his creator why he deceived into thinking King was robot of unknown origin. Wily explains that King was only designed to test Bass’s abilities. Furious, Bass declares that he will defeat Mega Man one day to prove he is the most power robot of all time.

This game is an interesting blend of both older and later Mega Man titles. To me, it feels a lot like the Mega Man X games in the sense of level design and graphics. There are collectibles scattered throughout the levels. However,  this time it is impossible to collect them in a single playthrough. So the player is encouraged to play through the game more than once. Plus, with the ability to experience the game as Bass, this seems even more encouraged. This was the last true Mega Man game released by Capcom for many years.

028A016D00153082-c2-photo-oYToxOntzOjE6InciO2k6NjUwO30-megaman-and-bass-5B1-5D

Difficulty: Very Difficult  – Once again, the difficulty level has been taken up ANOTHER notch. In fact, I’ve read somewhere that it was the goal of the developers to make this title as “hardcore as possible”. At this point, I guess we really cannot complain, and should look at this as a staple of the series. This title contains every dirty trick you can image.

Story: Here we have a good story that helps to flesh out the Bass character a bit. The introduction of King is also a nice tough.

Originality: This game is a nice mix of both old and new. The ability to play as someone other than Mega Man is a really nice touch. Both characters have their pros and cons and this makes the experience quite different.

Soundtrack: Decent tracks here, but somehow they seem to lack cohesion. Some of them seem a little out of place, but overall it’s a decent soundtrack.

Fun: Fun- if you’re a sadomasochist. This truly is one of the harder action platformers out there. Patience is a must. 

Graphics: Very sharp and crisp on the GBA screen. The game definitely show it’s 16-bit roots, but I find no reason to complain.

Playcontrol: No real complaints here. The controls are precise and responsive. It’s important to note that both Mega Man and Bass have a different feel about them.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – This a pretty good title and a welcome addition to the handheld Mega Man universe. As I said, the difficulty level is pretty intense so be warned going in.

Not currently available

Other Reviews In This Series:

MMMM2MM3MM4MM5MM6MM7MM8MM&BassMM9MM10

MMX – MMX2 – MMX3 – MMX4 – MMX5 – MMX6 – MMX7 – MMX8 – MMXtreme – MMXtreme2 – Comman Mission

Zero – Zero2 – Zero3 – Zero 4 – ZX

BN – BN2 – BN3- BN4- BN5 – BN6

Review: Castlevania – Aria of Sorrow

castlevania-aria-of-sorrow.440979-5B1-5D

Today I review the last entry in the GBA line of CV games, Aria of Sorrow.

This game continued the “castleroid” trend, so as far as originality goes, the formula is starting to get a bit stale. However, where this title lacks in originality it makes up for in story and fun.

This entry takes place in the futuristic time of 2035. The game begins when two teenagers (Mina Hakuba and a foreign exchange student, Soma Cruz) visit a Japanese shrine to watch the solar eclipse. During the eclipse, something unusual happens and the teens pass out. When they wake up, they find themselves in a strange castle being attacked by skeletons. Out of nowhere a mysterious man named :”Genya Arikado” (aka: Alucard in disguise) appears and wards of the skeletons.

He explains to Soma that they are standing in Dracula’s Castle, and that he believes that there must be something magical about Soma or the castle would not have called to him. Alucard suggests that Mina should wait in the courtyard while Soma explores the castle to find a way out. Alucard promises to look for a way out as well.

aos_2-5B1-5D

Soma soon discovers he has the unusual ability to absorb the power of monsters that he defeats in battle. So as monsters are slain, he learns new abilities that he can use in battle and exploration.

Throughout the game, Soma learns he is not alone in the castle. He encounters two very mysterious vampire hunters: Yoko Belnades and Julius Belmont. It is thru them that he learns that Dracula was permanently defeated by Julius during the “battle of 1999”, and that to prevent Dracula from returning, Castlevania was “sealed away” in the shadow of the eclipse. Without any piece of the castle existing in the physical plane, Dracula’s power was vanquished forever.

It seems, however, that some have taken advantage of the solar eclipse in order to claim the power of Castlevania for themselves. One such a man is the infamous cult leader, Graham Jones. Jones has the twisted notion that it is his destiny to become Dracula reincarnated. Soma has several encounters with Jones, one in particular in which he catches Jones attempting to murder Yoko.

As the story falls into place, it is learned that Jones is not the reincarnation of Dracula, but rather it is Soma! Soma vows not to let the evil power of Dracula conquer his soul and sets out on a quest to enter the deepest darkest depths of the castle in an attempt to destroy the chaotic spirit of evil that torments his destiny.

ariaofsorrow-5B1-5D

With Julius Belmont watching over him, in case he should fail and fall into darkness, Soma engages in a final epic battle with the demon of Chaos, and frees himself from the chains of darkness that enveloped his destiny

The storyline really drives the game, but was a shock to many CV fans when they learned that Dracula was finally defeated once and for all, and they never got the pleasure of actually seeing it happen. Due to this outcry, Konami promised to make a game featuring Julius and battle of 1999. As of the time of this writing, we still have yet to see such a game.

Like the HoD this game has several different endings, depending on how many abilities you have unlocked and how well you’ve comprehended the story.

In fact, one of them can only be seen if you lose the battle with Chaos. The ending shows a possessed Soma sitting in Dracula’s throne as Julius rushes in to defeat him.

All in all, it is a good game, and the semi-climax it has brought to the Castlevania franchise makes it a very worthy entry.

1476: Castlevania III — Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, Grant, and Alucard vs. Dracula.

1576: Castlevania Adventure – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula

1591: Castlevania Adventure II – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula

1691: Castlevania, Super Castlevania, Chronicles – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula

1698: Castlevania II – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula

1748: Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance – Juste Belmont vs. Dracula

1792: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood — Richter Belmont and Maria Renard vs. Dracula

1797: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – Alucard vs. Dracula

1830: Castlevania: Circle of the Moon – Nathan Graves vs Dracula

1844/1852: Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness – Cornell, Henry, Reinhardt, & Carrie vs. Dracula

1897: Dracula the novel

1917: Castlevania: Bloodlines – Jonathan Morris and Eric Lecarde vs. Dracula

2035: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow – Soma Cruz vs. Castlevania

Difficulty: Medium Clone of the previous two games in term of design and difficulty. Not much new to say here.
Story: Very high marks in the area. We finally see what might be the “end” of the Castlevania legend. Only to have new gaps in the plotline open before our eyes.

Originality: While very strong in the storytelling department, there’s little else that’s brought to the table in terms of originality. We do have the new soul system, but the overall feel and design of the game is slowly getting a bit stale.

Soundtrack: Pretty decent stuff here. But nothing that particularly stands out.

Fun: Overall, a very enjoyable title. Probably the best “castleroid” yet, excluding SotN.

Graphics: This title represent GBA perfection. This game is step above the previous two titles. The anime avatars are crisp and colorful, the backgrounds are lovely and well done.

Playcontrol: Again, flawless execution. No delay, or other annoying glitches.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – While lacking in some areas, the story really sucks you in and keeps you hooked. It’s maybe not the most original title in the series, but it probably is the best of the three GBA entries.

Current Available: WiiU Virtual Console  (Originally GBA)

Other Reviews In This Series:

CVCV II – CV IIICVACVA II – Super CVDracula X BloodlinesSotNCV64 – CotM ChroniclesHoDAoSLoIDoSCoDPoROoECVA RebirthJudgment 

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

 

Review: Castlevania – Harmony of Dissonance

Caratula_Harmony_of_Dissonance-5B1-5D

The next stop on the Castlevania series is another GBA title, Harmony of Dissonance.

I was EXTREMELY excited when this title was released because it is a “sequel” to CV2 – Simon’s Quest – One of my favorites.

The game features Juste Belmont, Simon’s grandson. The story is about two vampire hunters: Juste and his companion Maxim. Two years before, Maxim had vanished on a journey of self enlightenment after Juste was chosen as heir to the Vampire Hunter whip over him.

When Maxim returns he is terrible shape. Inflicted with amnesia he tells Juste that their childhood friend Lydie has been kidnapped and taken to strange castle. The two of them travel to the castle (which suspiciously looks a lot like Castlevania). Juste tells Maxim to rest by the entrance while he enters the castle in search of Lydie.

castlevania-harmony-of-dissonance-gba.3137602-5B1-5D

As the story unfolds, it is learned that in an effort to prove himself a worthy vampire hunter, Maxim followed in the footsteps of Juste’s grandfather Simon by finding the various remains (or relics) of Dracula in an attempt to resurrect him and defeat him. By doing so he unwittingly became possessed by Dracula’s spirit and summoned Castlevania back into the material world.

During Juste’s quest in the castle he meets up with The Grim Reaper on more than one occasion and learns that in it’s transient state Castlevania currently exists both in the material world and spirit world, and only by conquering both will be be able to overcome the dark spell placed on Maxim.

Eventually, Juste is able to rescue Lydie and confronts the “Dark Maxim” only to let loose a Wraith-Form Dracula. Like his predecessors, he defeats the count, and sends the castle crumbling into dust.

All in all, this title is similar to both Symphony and Circle of the Moon. The atmosphere bears no resemblance to Simon’s Quest whatsoever, other than collecting Dracula’s relics there is little outside of the storyline that connects the two games.

castlevania-harmony-of-dissonance-gba.3137603-5B1-5D

While somewhat of a disappointment in that regard, the game was very enjoyable. I have played a it a few times in the past, but I found myself enjoying it just as much this go-around.

Once the game is beaten there a few unlockable features. You can play as Maxim, or participate in a the Boss Rush mode, both of which are nice touches.

The graphics are a step up from Circle of the Moon, but the music is sadly subpar. While not terrible, it’s definitely not what I would expect from a Castlevania title at this point in time.

Here’s my final rundown and series placement.

1476: Castlevania III — Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, Grant, and Alucard vs. Dracula.

1576: Castlevania Adventure – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1591: Castlevania Adventure II – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1691: Castlevania, Super Castlevania, Chronicles – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1698: Castlevania II – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula

1748: Castlevania – Harmony of Dissonance – Juste Belmont vs Dracula
1792: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood — Richter Belmont and Maria Renard vs. Dracula
1797: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – Alucard vs. Dracula
1830: Castlevania: Circle of the Moon – Nathan Graves vs Dracula
1844/1852: Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness – Cornell, Henry, Reinhardt, & Carrie vs. Dracula
1897: Dracula the novel
1917: Castlevania: Bloodlines – Jonathan Morris and Eric Lecarde vs. Dracula

Difficulty: Medium This title is very similar to SotN in terms of difficulty. Overall fairly easy in terms of challange. The real test lies in the player’s willingness to explore and discover every nook and cranny.
Story: Somewhat similar to Circle of the Moon, but with a more familiar set of characters. Nice tidbits about the nature of Castlevania itself.

 

Originality: Again, sort of a cheap throw-back to Circle of the Moon in regards to the two main characters. SotN style.

Soundtrack: Not the best I’ve heard. The songs here are very strange and unearthly. While that does create a certain atmosphere, they sadly, are just not very good.

Fun: Despite some of my above complaints, the game is a lot of fun. I really enjoy these “castleroid” style games. This is no exception.

Graphics: A bit of a step up from Circle of the Moon. Very colorful and impressive scenery. Although, I don’t quite understand why Juste has that strange glow about him… it made sense with Alucard (he’s a supernatural being), but why with Juste?

Playcontrol: No real issues here. Perfect. Just like Symphony or Circle.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3- This is a solid Castlevania title. There’s not really anything new to see, so it doesn’t really stand out in a lineup with the other titles.

Currently Available: WiiU Virtual Console (originally GBA)

Other Reviews In This Series:

CVCV II – CV IIICVACVA II – Super CVDracula X BloodlinesSotNCV64 – CotM ChroniclesHoDAoSLoIDoSCoDPoROoECVA RebirthJudgment 

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

Review: Castlevania – Circle of the Moon

Castlevania-Circle-of-The-Moon-5B2-5D

The next entry in the Castlevania saga is Circle of the Moon. Released in 2001, this game, for a time, was removed from official chronology by the director of the Castlevania series. It has since been re-added back thanks to a more recent title “Portrait of Ruin”, but we’ll get to the that at another time.

This title is the first on the Gameboy Advance. It is similar is looks and style to Symphony of the Night, but much more difficult. The GBA has proven to be an excellent platform for the series as Circle of the Moon is the first of three games designed exclusively for it.

The game differs from Symphony with the introduction of the DSS system. This ability systems allows the player to collect magic-infused cards that fall at random from defeated enemies. The cards are sorted into two types: A deck and B deck.

You can combine one A and B type card to create a special effect or ability. For example, Flaming Whip or Whip of Thorns. Some of the cards also allow you to summon mythological monsters, which in turn grant character buffs or deal damage to monsters.

Many of the more powerful cards are difficult to find, but they make the game much easier towards the end.

The game takes place in 1830 where master vampire hunter Morris Baldwin has arrived on the scene of Castlevania with his son Hugh and his apprentice Nathan Graves.

They discover that Dracula’s minions have successfully resurrected him outside of his 100-year cycle but before the heroes can lift a finger to slay the weakened Dracula, the count springs a trap and a Nathan and Hugh fall tumbling down into the caves beneath the castle.

gfs_19699_1_24_mid-5B1-5D

Being the apprentice hunter Nathan declares his desire to ascend to the top of the castle to both rescue Morris and defeat Dracula. Hugh slaps him down and tell him to stay out of the way, he alone will find his father, he rudely declines any offer of help. Nathan is left alone with only the Hunter Whip to defend him.

From here, the game plays out like another “castleroid” You play Nathan as he navigates the various areas in and around Castlevania. Throughout the game there are few chance encounters with Hugh, who seems to be blinded by his lust for power and revenge. Ultimately, Nathan and Hugh do battle. Upon his defeat, Hugh snaps back to his own mind. It seems he was under some dark spell of Dracula’s. He offers his assistance to Nathan and they rush off to throne room.

The two find Morris held prisoner, Nathan bests Dracula in combat and the vampire flees the scene. Hugh escorts his father out of the throne room while Nathan pursues Dracula for the final showdown.

gfs_19699_2_118_mid-5B1-5D

Dracula’s second form is that of a menacing demon. Upon defeat, the heroes emerge and watch the fall of Castlevania from the peak of a nearby mountain. Hugh apologizes for his pride and greed, and reaffirms his commitment to train harder in case fate should ever call upon him…

Pretty typical Castlevania game. Not much original in the storyline, although one would have to wonder just who the hell these people are! What has happened to the Belmont family, and how did Morris and Hugh come into possession of the enchanted whip? Fans would not receive an answer to these questions for many years.
1476: Castlevania III — Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, Grant, and Alucard vs. Dracula

1576: Castlevania Adventure – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula

1591: Castlevania Adventure II – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula

1691: Castlevania – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula

1698: Castlevania II – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula

1792: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood — Richter Belmont and Maria Renard vs. Dracula

1797: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – Alucard vs. Dracula

1830: Castlevania: Circle of the Moon – Nathan Graves vs Dracula

1844/1852: Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness – Cornell, Henry, Reinhardt, & Carrie vs. Dracula

1897: Dracula the novel

1917: Castlevania: Bloodlines – Jonathan Morris and Eric Lecarde vs. Dracula

Difficulty: Difficult – While similar is design to SotN, this title is a bit more difficult. It’s still not a frustrating as some of the earlier titles in the series, but it’s no pushover. Things get much easier if you take them time to explore and find some of the items and cards that are a bit more difficult to obtain.

Story: The story between this new band of hunters is interesting, but doesn’t seem to fit in well with the rest of the saga. For a long time this led to confusion among many fans. This was eventually explained in a later game however.

Originality: While borrowing many elements from SotN, the devs did take steps to make this game unique.The DSS system is a nice touch, but overall not one that I think really took off with many fans.

Soundtrack: The sound track here is well done. The music is appropriate for the game, but not every memorable in my opinion.

Fun: The game itself was a lot of fun for me. The atmosphere is perfect, very creepy stuff at the beginning of the title really sets the mood. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Graphics: Very similar in design to SotN, but not quite as crisp. The backgrounds as pretty impressive, but some of the character models could be better.

Playcontrol:   No real problems here. If playing, I do recommend playing on either a Gameboy Advance SP or one of the 2nd gen DS system. The frequent use of the shoulder buttons cramped my hand back in the day when playing on the original GBA. – Software related: I have no complaint. The controls function as I would expect and are very precise.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – This is a great title and a must-have for any CV fan with a Gameboy.

Currently Available: WiiU Virtual Console (originally GBA)

Other Reviews In This Series:

CVCV II – CV IIICVACVA II – Super CVDracula X BloodlinesSotNCV64 – CotM ChroniclesHoDAoSLoIDoSCoDPoROoECVA RebirthJudgment 

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II