Thursday, 3 October 2013

PSX Final Fantasy 7

Whether I get any backlash over this or not all depends upon the irate fan base that seems to worship this game above and beyond all games as, and I quote "It's da bestest game evar!" You can add your own childish voice to that line however you wish. While I'm open to admit that it's a game, it is ground breaking in its own ways and certainly seemed to open up the Japanese RPG genre to a lot of people around the world. It is by no means a game that should be held in such high regard as the "OMG #1 GAME!!11!!" as often touted by many idiots that rightly deserve to be shown some 8 bit classics or just need to get out a little more often and talk with real people.

Final Fantasy 7; even I have to admit to having a huge interest in the game when I first saw it advertised with the 3D models showing combat in based around turn/time based ordering, menu based attack systems and realising that it alone would require strategy rather than most games at the time having the need to hammer a button, repeatedly, to beat boss x, y and z before getting a credits screen.

The plot is enormous for the time. First runs often taking 60+ hours to get through (assuming you have the patience) which pales into some games today having over 120 hours of game play (padded by HUGE expanses of sitting around doing sweet fuck all...). You assume the role of "Cloud" a spiky headed hairdo of a caucasian with an improbably big sword compensating for a lack of trouser filling. You get to follow cloud through futuristic/fantasy setting from being a terrorist (you tell me blowing up stuff and killing innocents doesn't make you one and I'll point to 2 former towers) to leading a renegade terrorist group into overthrowing a company executive that runs most of the planet, escaping said capital city into an open world filled with towns, villages, ports, all with their own issues and difficulties while following one silver haired man with a big sword (more trouser department issues) and stopping him from destroying the planet because he believes himself to be descended from higher beings and being told he was an experiment set off the emo trip of destruction. Sadly they all look like dolls in shop and any attempt to express emotion is met with the same gormless facial expression.

In a nut shell; There's a lot more going on than just this with motor bike races, double crosses, killing off main characters (not a first in any game nor any Final Fantasy game for that matter either...) developing character and plot (except around Cloud who remains as confused and sword stabby as always just with a little more purpose and a better understanding of his history, that nobody really bothered to tell us about and we just wish he'd tone down the hair-gel!) Racing and breeding of large birds, submarines, Command & Conquer strategy moments, huge monsters, big fights, large annoying bosses and level grinding like a bastard.

Can't beat that boss on level 10? Run around like a retard for 20 minutes, fighting every little random (yes it's random encounter time or as I like to phrase it "computer says fuck you" time) encounter until you come back and can kill the boss just by waving your hairstyle at it or staring really hard.

I could go into every little intricacy of plot but the line "Guy joins terrorists and then realises greater threat, has to save the world" does it perfectly, maybe adding "p.s. Flashy effects ahead"

Cloud isn't alone, at any time he will have up to 2 other people directly with him and will be fighting alongside him which will be intermittently determined by the game when someone plot focused is forced into the view and you HAVE to take along the one character you didn't level up and play with because they looked/sounded/were shit or you'd already invested 20 hours in someone else and now forced to play with another character is just a waste of your time and preferences. Each of these chars will join, take over the story, and then take a back seat while you pick the 2 chars you really want with you the whole time based on usually just "I like the look".

You've the big angry black guy stereo type that swears a lot, the big titted love interest with the world's strongest lower back, the dainty intelligent girl that is better with spells than anything else and gets killed for being dull and to remove the pointlessly forced love triangle bullshit, an old guy with a hatred for most things thanks to losing his dreams, a talking cat stuffed toy comic relief character with just as comical special moves, a talking lion/dog/tiger thing that acts mysterious and speaks in an aloof fashion to make it seem he is more interesting than he really is. Completing the ensemble are the bonus characters of a mopey man with even more of a depressing story to his grief than the main characters and a token young girl ninja with more leg on show than KFC at peak hours who is playing the ditzy-but-determined clueless kid.

It's all much of a similarity that you can't find in your usual anime shows and about as complex in narrative as you'd expect.

The story ambles along at the rate at which you play and succeed. Pointless back stories and histories can even involve their own fights which pads the time you're spending and making absolutely zero progress. Getting into a fight in a back-story is one of the most ridiculous wastes of time I've seen, even if to show off one character that will be the last boss. WE KNOW he's meant to be tough, just do a flashy FMV of it instead. Back stories have the characters being forced to run around locations and talk to characters or go to locations until the right ones are done in the right order to progress plot and get the fuck on with the main story.

My gripe aside however...

Foreshadowing is used in varying degrees where some new char might show up, then be fought moments later, while the bigger opponents are given more time to be evil then offed in over the top battles. Sometimes a boss comes out of nowhere and it's a case of "yep... lets fight it" including the ones that talk to you about what's going on. Plot points can be entirely over looked at times and knowing where to go next simply becomes the point of just looking at the map and seeing which location you've not been to lately or haven't been to at all.

Combat is the usual affair for the game making up the majority of the game's structure when it's not reading text, missing some Japanese cultural jokes and watching long videos of nothing happening. It's the usual turn based system picking to fight, cast magic, summon attacks, use items, run off or other extra commands based around whichever coloured ball you pick up and put in your characters inventory.

Magic and extra functions are determined by small coloured balls you assign to a weapon or armour item. Green ones being magical spells, blue ones boost green effects from elemental inclusion to attack lots/multiple times, yellow ones give bonus commands like morphing and power attacks, red ones summon powerful creatures capable of high damage until you reach the later stages of the game when your standard attack out classes them (except for ONE summon... that takes far too long to cast), and purple balls that change stats like health and magic/mana or permit things like countering, more passive abilities.

There's a fairly complex mechanic behind this system where you can pair up some balls to get attacks that drain health from the enemy at the same time, or attack when you die which can resurrect the dead character, counter attacking with summons or spells or boosting the power of various attacks and defences. You slowly get drawn into it with the few spells like cure and lightning attacks, the more you use them, the more exp they gain and the more power spells become opened to you. Bonus points for getting maxed out EXP on the coloured balls and getting the master ones that give you everything, which you already HAVE! Another redundant reward.

The game has a plethora of items and weapons to throw at you with various effects, each char has their own weapon types, various armours and bangles are worn by all or specific to gender/race. Combined with the colour ball mechanic allows for pairing balls, multiplied exp growth for the balls and such. (Yes it's called materia, I'm using balls). Where you can put your most powerful balls together to get different effects, ball pairing was never so calculatingly fun ( By the end of the game you'll have so many that you'll be longing for an Optimal function and at one point your carefully collected and planned ball set will be taken away and mixed up and you're left feeling the game has fucked with you once again and you'll never get the combination back that you had before. All of your hard, progressive work, undone again.

Doesn't help that the under aged ninja kid steals all your balls in a side-quest that involves a guy you had to cross-dress for earlier in the game and if done right, lusts for Cloud more than BiggyTits and DeadByDisc1Girl.

Though despite this, it's possible to get through the game with the basic spells and attacks with a few items to help out. The only challenges that could present are the creatures that require a specific tactic (i.e. they nullify all attacks, or need potions to unlock their vulnerable sides... like that ever made sense) in order to progress further. With enough grinding of levels and stats, most bosses and enemies will fall after hitting them enough times.

There's some lengthy side quests you have to undertake if you want the more powerful "I AM GOD" abilities and spells that take up more time to cast them just to show off something before the bigger numbers land on the screen indicating strength and damage. But really the battles and the plot are two different games and the jumps from one to another all serve as a distraction from the alternative. When you're fighting you want progression, when you're progressing plot, you'd rather be fighting.

The biggest grievance though is the "finding yourself" segment of the plot, it can take over 45minutes of walking around and trying to activate the objects in the room just to unlock more videos and more text showing something that could have been fixed very quickly in just one scene without the unnecessary egg hunt for the trigger to move the game onwards.

For the hardcore, there's bonus bosses to fight, breeding racing birds and seeking the elite one to get the ultimate unlocks, bonus characters with their own storylines or the self imposed runs of "items only" for the truly depraved and self-depreciating individual. Though the game is already long enough as it is. As such it suffers the "rush it at the end" approach where the final parts of the game are just a long slog through the last dungeon filled with the toughest things so far that still die too quickly for your army-slaughtering, over-powered, warriors, to then kill the last few bosses and get the credit sequence. You just want it over by then but the game is forcing you to play it out a bit longer.

Dying in the game is the end and you'll have to go back to the last save point. If you've not saved in a while and you're surprised by a bonus enemy or secret boss without warning, you're going to be doing a LOT of backtracking to get there for round 2, or just quit the game and look it up online.

Graphically the game switches in and out of super cute deformed characters when in the over world, to pseudo anime style in battles while the FMVs switch up from one to the other with the more detailed and higher polygon graphics turning up towards the end of the game. Compare the first videos with the very basic looking models in FMVs to the last video of Cloud before the final fight and see the huge difference in styles. The lack of consistency makes me wonder just how many changes were made throughout the game. The fights themselves take the opportunity to showcase just how overboard they can go with the engine with 3D shifts and pan shots of the combatants, close-ups and zooms for attacks and power moves like they're going out of fashion in a pre-graduates media project, though you can appreciate that given the time, they likely felt that HAD to over sell it from the sprite based combat they'd had previously.

Music and sounds are rather lacklustre until the more epic pieces kick in, sound effects often sound muted and grainy and lack the impact of better quality audio that was available at the time and thankfully, no voice actors means I can imagine the large angry black man having a high pitched squeaky voice while the cute big titted girl sounds like an 80-a-day chain-smoker. I like having the choice to perceive the annoying how I choose and thankfully not with some overly cute, childish voice that fits an 8 year old kid. Having to imagine her say "I love you" while wheezing and hacking up carcinogenic lumps of her lungs, was far more entertaining them most of this game.

Nostalgia however is the biggest problem. Too many people are putting this game up as a 'wonder of gaming' all the world over and while it does have its charm and appeal, the flaws in the game are becoming more and more apparent as time goes on. No it's not because the graphics have changed, the same story is still there but it's done and done better before and since this game.

Going on a date with the only other guy in the party is still funny though.

There's a lot more going on beneath the surface but you'll need some very in depth guides and FAQs to get to them and in ways that most people will never find nor bother to find. Only once did I manage to get Cloud to go on a date with someone other than Aeris and while it wasn't intentional, certainly was amusing, though I was called out for being a liar at school until years later when it was discovered not only that it could be done but HOW to do it too. It's all about choices, I just happened to make the right ones.

Replay factor... likely most people will play this once or twice, once to just experience the game and generic story and a second time (if they didn't do this already), to get all the things they missed like the super powerful summons and spells, easily missed items by accidentally completing a dungeon too soon and so on. Or the really odd items you can miss by not having character X with the team at time Y armed with item Z for a one-off chance to find something. That "fair" way of missing something you'd never have had otherwise nor would know to look, or even care, without a guide.

Of course having a character that has a special attack called Game Over, is always fun. As it does exactly that. Game Over, no recovery, no escape. What fun THAT is after 3 hours without saving... I seriously would love to be in on that meeting "Let's put in a move that either kills the opponent flawlessly or if they fuck up the timing, kills the players" and gob-smacking every bastard who said "YES" to that proposal.

To give it credit, the game did usher in and make more accessible the Japanese style RPGs to a new generation of console and open up the genre to even more people than the hardcore RPG players, but it could have it done it in a much better and more enjoyable way.

Now it's time for me to gel my hair up and grab a sword, I've a giant chicken to rescue. And yes, Cait-Sith dying was more touching for me than Aeris.