This time around, it’s not about the full games – it’s about specific moments, and our Top 5 Worst and Top 5 Best Moments of the Marathon. These can be moments built into the game or things that happened to Kyle and I while we were playing, a great blend of the personal and the well-designed. Enjoy!
Kyle’s Bottom 5:
Not all moments in these games are created equally. From frustrating technical design, to sheer ludicrous story elements. Did we have some blunders ourselves? Well sure. Most of those we were able to laugh off. You might wonder which moments were the most cringe worthy though. Well, let’s dive in shall we?
Number 5: Oh, did you want Magic to be useful? (Final Fantasy II)
In many of the later Final Fantasy games, spells allow you to make use of elemental weaknesses of your enemies. In some games, using this weakness can easily one shot kill, or get at least close to. In our band of Resistance fighters though, magic, like everything else, levelled up with use… typically. The problem being that you had a limit on MP use, but swinging a weapon was free. Therefore, you’re likely going to be doing a lot more damage not using magic then you would if you did. Ultima, the big deal of this game, should in theory do a lot of damage. In actuality though, it was cruddy. I don’t think it broke the 500 damage amount when our weapons were hitting in the 2000’s. And to think: Ultima killed someone just trying to get to it!
Number 4: Oh, well, your Monster can’t be useful all the time you know? (Final Fantasy Legend I and II)
In both of the Legend games, you can have achieve between Humans, Mutants (Espers) or Monsters. For Monsters, you eat the Meat of fallen foes to change your form. While these statistics can be good, they can also be right terrible. What you eat determines what you’ll become. Later on, this means needing to wait until almost the final battles of the game to actually reach your strongest forms. Have Silenced Monsters in the group? Well now, you’ll be in a bit of trouble won’t you?
Number 3: Hey Sumo, wanna just stand by this ledge? No reason (Final Fantasy Adventure)
Life can be hard, especially when you just keep making the same mistake over and over again. Our hero Sumo might have been able to survive the gladiatorial pits, but he never learned about good footing. On multiple occasions, he would stand right by the cliff or on the railings of an airship, just waiting to be shield bashed. This is a Worst Moment because he never learns. Ever.
Number 2: Bench Warmers (Final Fantasy VI)
Final Fantasy VI did many things right. Great story, fun combat. One thing that it had an abundance of however was characters. There was a lot of them, and some of them were really not good (looking at you Gau, no we are not friends), others had interesting backstories, and others had abilities that were just blah (oh hi Seltzer). The problem was when you had to change up your party due to story reasons or because your main character had learned all the Magic that they could. This left us finding favourites and only sticking others in when they were necessary. Story was not shared between all people, so some people really lacked development (and good equipment options).
Number 1: Another Pointless Sacrifice (Final Fantasy IV)
This is a bit of a sad funny kind of situation. Usually in a story, when a main character sacrifices themselves for the party it’s typically sad. In this case however, it became a contest on who could not die in the most ridiculous way. From leaping off a ship and detonating a blast that took down a volcano, to kicking an engine so hard it exploded, it really makes you wonder. Worst of all? Well, yes the characters lived; somehow. More importantly we needed to do annoying side quests to get them back. Gah!
My Bottom 5:
Dishonourable Mention: Do I Really Have to Say It? (Legend of the Crystals)
When I sent Kyle over a blank template for his entries, we both silently agreed to stick to the template and not to mention the FFIV Interlude both in the previous entry and in the current one. However, I realized after the fact that the template missed another important Final Fantasy entry that rightly deserves to be on the Bottom 5 list, and that won’t do at all.
So here we go: Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals. In its entirety. Never forget. LotC is only off the #1 spot on a technicality.
With that out of our way, let’s take a look at my actual entries!
Number 5: The Plunk that Shook the World (Final Fantasy III)
So there I was, doing the inaugural solo Marathon with the at-the-time DS-only 3D release of Final Fantasy III. I clear the first dungeons, reunite with Princess Sara, and finally it was time to destroy the evil Djinn I’d trapped in a ring by throwing the ring in the magic fountain. Princess Sara revved up, gave the ring a heave, it hit the water with a “plunk” and…………
…and the camera just stares, waiting for something to happen…
…ahhh, silence. The sound of failure.
It was probably the first time in the entire Marathon, Trauma Center and Mega Man included, that I was actually rolling-in-the-aisles laughing. Kyle and I often make each other laugh during the games. Sadly, memories of Mega Man and Trauma Center have faded with time (perhaps thanks to a lack of Journals?) but the Plunk that Shook the World has lived on for me despite first being seen in my aborted solo run of the game. Kyle naturally wasn’t there for the solo run, and I don’t think he found it quite as funny as me, but to me the silence that “killed” the Djinn is a classic. That it replaced the magical light effects from the Famicom FFIII make it all the better. Thank you, empty blessing.
Number 4: The Fall from Grace (Final Fantasy Legend II)
If you’re just tuning in for these look-back articles, you should probably know that the Marathon typically covers games that are new to either Kyle, I, or both of us. In the case of Final Fantasy, usually I’m the one who’s new to the game, but that wasn’t the case for the Legend subseries – I grew up with the three Legend games, even if I had never cleared I and II. When we played the games for the Marathon, I finally got to figure out what I was doing wrong in my initial attempts… and in one case, what I wasn’t.
The endgame of FFLII features one of the most extreme difficulty jumps I’ve ever seen, thanks entirely to ill-conceived relations with its monster transformation system. Rather than introducing half of each internal “tier” of monsters every two worlds, as was balanced just fine, FFLII’s final areas spit out an entire tier within one world, and the difficulty of that final tier outstripped anything in the game up to that point. Our party, which had been able to steamroll anything in the previous world, had to run from essentially every battle in the final world, all while the way to any shops or inns was blocked off to discourage grinding (remember: FFLII has a durability system, so with no shops you nearly can’t grind!). It’s the kind of design plunge that made me wonder if I ever wanted to play FFLII ever again, because I know the difficulty will spit in my face in the last half hour.
Like I said in the previous entry, I don’t feel so harshly anymore, but this kind of harsh mistake is exactly what prevented FFLII from being my favourite or second-favourite game on the previous list, and it dug its own grave. It dug its own grave.
Number 3: The Scenic Exploding Airship (Final Fantasy II)
Like my #5, #3 is just a tiny moment that made me laugh out loud. It was the early days of gaming, 1988, and game developers lacked a certain degree of basic cinematic training. Okay, a considerable degree. The party had just sabotaged the engine of the enemy warship, the Dreadnought, and (more-or-less) had the dramatic, explosion-side revelation that the Dark Knight was Maria’s brother Leon. Now it’s time for the party to escape, or face certain flaming, plunging death at their own hands. So the party begins to… walk up the way they came. Just casually saunter up the exploding airship. And rather than cut to a later screen, the game dutifully recreates the entire walk up the airship square-by-painful-square. “And here on your left, you can see another exploding gasket, belting hot steam!” “And on your right, the sense of betrayal left behind by your own flesh-and-blood!” But the best part to the rudimentary cinematic mistake was that it was worsened in newer versions of FFII, which should have known better. Enjoy the tour!
Number 2: Garuda (Final Fantasy III)
I’ll be honest: if this weren’t a list of “moments,” my #1 complaint against the first twelve Final Fantasy games would be the FFIII remake’s difficulty switchover. The 3D FFIII remake replaced the reportedly difficult but measured FFIII difficulty, with its specific challenges and job class puzzles with a virtually randomized experience I compared to a pure lottery in the Journal. Even grinding only does so much against a game that can double-tap your entire party to death with a bad random roll. And that brings us to our actual #2 worst moment: Garuda, the boss with no weaknesses. Garuda in FFIII on the Famicom was designed to be beaten with Dragoons: the game heavily forecast this by only allowing you to buy and find Dragoon equipment during the entire Saronia segment, and outright locked you out from the rest of the game to discourage you from using other jobs. The remake took one look at this and removed Garuda’s predictable AI and added the boss ability to act twice in a turn, both of which destroyed the Dragoon’s ability to dodge his group lightning attacks. Now the Dragoon isn’t just mostly useless, but it’s mostly useless and you’re still trapped in a city with nothing but Dragoon equipment! The creators of the remake tossed out everything about the section that made it clever and replaced it with a deathtrap of a boss that even fans of the remake won’t defend. Shame on all of them.
Number 1: FFIV Blows the Whole Damn Set (Final Fantasy IV)
FFIV starts with what may be the most promising premise in the entire series to date, one that’ll be hard to top in games to come. Cecil, the reluctant Dark Knight, who has everything but is questioning the morality of his orders, turns on his master and goes into exile with nothing but himself and a traumatized young summoner against the world. By mid-game, the premise is starting to… strain. Genuine ideological and interpersonal conflict between Cecil and his foster brother Kain is replaced with mind control (the watered-down wine of drama), a low-level misogyny is beginning to bloom like a fungal infection, and the game has just artificially extended its length by introducing four (actually two) new Crystals, as though Square’s top brass walked on stage in the middle of the video game and demanded an extra ten hours of gameplay no matter what they had to do to get it. But there was still plenty of opportunity.
And then the game just outright caught fire.
It started with the hand of Golbez crawling away from Cecil at one tile an hour while Cecil just stood there and gawked, which would easily qualify as my #1 even if it stood alone because it’s just ridiculous. But that was just the warning sign. The first trip to the Tower of Babil in FFIV was the single greatest plunge from quality to junk that I’ve ever seen in a video game. Within less than five minutes, the game has “killed” Yang in a manner so preposterous that even the 3D remake wasn’t able to explain it, despite my high praise for the remake’s ability to repair the plot in the previous entry, and then the game had Cid “kill” himself in a mile-high dead-drop plus explosion that makes the Dreadnought stroll in FFII almost make sense in hindsight. These “deaths” were baffling enough, but learning that they weren’t really deaths at all had Kyle and me rolling in the aisles. The game never recovered, undoing even more deaths, introducing a few Star Wars clichés, and getting even worse on the mind control and misogyny fronts, too. Oh FFIV, you comic tragedy. You hilarious antique. I miss you.
My Top 5:
Number 5: First World (The Final Fantasy Legend)
Throughout the Final Fantasy Legend Journals, I’ve tried to touch on their intangible “mythic” quality. Unfortunately, it’s a quality they gradually lost as the games came more into focus. As a result, it’s no real surprise that I look back at the First World of FFLI as embodying what I think of when I think of The Final Fantasy Legend, or even the trilogy as a whole. The First World is a decidedly low-fantasy moment with a mythic core: a group of scrappy nobodies taking on an impossible challenge: climbing the Tower in the centre of the world, to find Paradise. And their first challenge: to explore the world and get three incredibly powerful magic items from three Kings who have based their power on those items – no easy task. The First World also has multiple routes (you can go to King Sword before King Armour) and really captures that golden age feel you generally only see in the prototypical WRPGs like Might and Magic. Too bad the game couldn’t hold it longer than one world, but still, probably my favourite overall chapter of a game in the entire Marathon to date.
Number 4: Well Whaddya Know! (Final Fantasy Adventure)
Like I said in my FFII entry in the Worst list, early video games didn’t really know what they were doing. As a result, it’s easy to be blindsided by their few rare moments of subtlety. That’s why Kyle and I were so impressed when FFA revealed that “Red Mage” really was the game’s archvillain, Julius. We were just going about our usual business, making jokes about this guy who apparently knew too much about kidnapping, right up to the point where he kidnapped someone right under our snarky noses! In hindsight, all the things we were joking about were actually clues, and all credit to FFA for pulling it off, and double credit for rubbing our faces in it.
Number 3: TAY exposes its Heart with Inter-Party Conversations (Final Fantasy IV: The After Years)
You know, for someone who doesn’t like the latter half of FFIV’s narrative very much, you’d think I wouldn’t be a fan of its sequel. And yet I am! Probably more than the original game, to be honest. I liked seeing where everyone had gone in their lives, meeting the new characters, and experimenting with the new gameplay tweaks without ranging too far from the root. But what I especially liked were the final chapter character moments between the cast, talking about their feelings and building specific connections. We probably learned more about the cast in those final hours than we did across the entire game, and a lot of the character threads were left there for an epilogue to cling to after the fact. I especially liked when the character moments matched what Kyle and I had already concluded, risky things to say like “Cecil was kind of a horrible father.” This is the kind of thing I’m looking for in a sequel (and not nonsense about magical panspermia, or god forbid we forget the other Final Fantasy sequel we’ve encountered so far: vaporizing a main character and shoving a crystal… well, you know by now). I can only hope that other Final Fantasy direct sequels (FFVII:DoC, FFX-2, FFXII-2 and -3) keep up this kind of character-centric approach, though given the reputation FF’s direct sequels have… pfffffffft.
Number 2: The Peace Talks (Final Fantasy VI)
When I was pitching this article to Kyle, I said that there were three things we should consider for our Best and Worst lists: actual parts of the game, stuff that happened to us the players, and stuff that happened in combination with the game. Throughout our lists, I think you’ll find several of each. For me, my #1 moment was something that happened exclusively to us, meaning it had very little to do with the game’s designed experience, while this #2 was a carefully crafted and designed experience. So while I say this is #2, it’s still my favourite thing that the Final Fantasy games ever intentionally did. This is the good stuff, right here.
The Peace Talks segment of FFVI defies the series’ expectations in basically every way imaginable. It’s the moment where the game tosses aside its random combat and skill building for some genuine diplomacy. Your characters sit and eat with the enemy, talk about the important issues, and – yeah, okay, there’s a preposterous sequence where you go around and beat up random soldiers on a timer, but even that’s at least unique for the game.
The best part about this segment in my opinion is the fact that your rewards are things you couldn’t regularly accomplish through force of arms. You free two whole towns if you do well, and while you do win a few items through “imperial favour,” most of them are presented via access to the imperial armoury. It’s the final punch that makes this segment unique, both in the original game and in the series to date.
Number 1: Got the Jump on God (The Final Fantasy Legend)
Liz wasn’t turning out very well for us. Mutants in FFLI get fully random abilities and she was getting junk from game’s start to game’s end. If it weren’t for her unusually high defence at start-of-game, we may as well have been playing FFLI with a party of three instead of four, and for most of the game, that basically was the case. But then something marvellous happened. Armed with the Awareness mutation, Liz twisted the rules of the game and ambushed nothing short of the game’s final boss, the god of the Final Fantasy Legend world. And nothing will ever top that. We got the drop on god, and in a game where the balance is severely against bosses, annihilating the bastard. It’s still the best thing to have happened in the Marathon to date.
Kyle’s Top 5:
Ahh the creme of the top. The bee’s knees. Some moments left us rolling around laughing or almost spitting out our pop. These moments really shines through some of the games. In some instances these weren’t just quick moments, but they were fun all the same.
Number 5: No! Bad Firion! Stop being attracted to monsters! (Final Fantasy II)
The second instalment of the series was a bit better in terms of personality of the characters. Well, more to the fact there is some. Of these, Firion had the unlucky chance to be wooed over by a Lamia that was in disguise as the Leader of the Wild Rose Resistance. As if it weren’t embarrassing enough to need his party to get him out of this haze, he also always got affected by the charm spell by any monsters. Mind you, this was mostly by different forms of Lamia later on. Guy was too busy being awesome to fall for such trickery. This was a constant joke that just kept giving.
Number 4: Galuf’s Last Stand (Final Fantasy V)
As far as Final Fantasy V goes, the game typically tries to toss a lot of humour at you. However, when confronted with the force that wants to destroy everything, Galuf decides it’s time to sacrifice everything to take him down. While a scripted battle, our poor villain is left utterly confused as to why he just won’t die. After blasting him with a heck of a lot of magic, Galuf all but has the fight in the bag. Unfortunately his allies don’t capitalize on this, and Exdeath crawls himself away. To the surprise of many, the others try every item and spell (even ones you likely don’t have yet) to try and save him. The wounds are far too serious however, and Galuf passes away. This actually sticks too; no side quest just to get him back.
Number 3: Ending (Final Fantasy Mystic Quest)
I know this might come as a bit of a surprise, but this really was a rather big highlight for me. Now, you might be sitting back there wondering why. That’s quite simple really, it was an encouraging way to end it. Typically in most of the series, the ending is that you killed the big bad, then the world became peaceful the end. This changed things up a bit. Our great Hero wasn’t done. His journey was just starting up again. It also helps that his best friend offers to join him on it. Before the days of sequel(s) this was a nice change of pace to think that the journey was going to continue.
Number 2: That Time we used Sneak Attack on God (The Final Fantasy Legend)
Well alright, so the Creator was his actual name, but the premise is still there. While a short game, our joke was that we had a group of pretty low moral individuals banding together. Their real mission was to destroy the system itself. When we meet with the Creator itself, it was all set to continue a long standing monologue. Typically, the heroes graciously wait for them to finish, then come up with a snarky comment. Our group? Oh no. While the Creator was sipping his tea we decided we would forgo the safety switch on our Nuke and proceed to blow him up. In his defence the Creator took it, but then we shattered a Glass sword over him and unleashed our most deadly attacks. The Creator never really bounced back. Why is this ranked so high you wonder? Well, honestly, it was the longest lasting laugh I think we’ve had to date.
Number 1: World of Ruin Introduction (Final Fantasy VI)
I’m sure many will not be surprised to see this as the best moment. From a story perspective, I think this really set the tone for the game itself. Many games were the group gets beat (say in Lunar the Silver Story Complete) the group will go to a bar, get thrashed, then have a eureka moment to work out how to kill the big bad. This game? No, not so much. The group is scattered across the broken world, and Celes, a character often seen as strong and determined attempts to commit suicide. No ifs ands or buts about this. This is an emotional blow, which makes the rise up to take Kefka down all the more satisfying. Out of the games, I think this tries to illustrate there is always that chance, even when everything seems to be finished. In the end we killed the want to be God before his theme music finished. Vengeance.