Well, it’s that time again: time to look back at a long period of gaming spanning several years in both development and playtime. The last time we did this, we were covering the NES, SNES and GB eras, plus their direct continuations. The games we’ll be covering this time are all the PSX-era RPGs and their continuations, basically everything we played after FFVI and up to the present day, including six Final Fantasy games (seven if you count Before Crisis), three Persona games, two Final Fantasy movies, and one Final Fantasy TV show. This is proximate to our last look-back in terms of products (our last Look-Back covered twelve Final Fantasy games, one OVA, and the undersized FFII Soul of Rebirth and FFIV Interlude), but represents way more blog posts overall. The Directory was really getting unwieldy. Admittedly, as Kyle comments in one of his reviews, all these spinoffs and sequels are going to make this something of a FFVII-centric post, but it’s how it’s gotta be.
Just like last time, we’re going to start with our Look-Back Reviews, which will cover every product but Before Crisis, since we didn’t actually play that one. These will range from games that have had time to steep in our memory, like Crisis Core or Persona 1, to games that are arguably still too fresh. In fact, I considered outright disqualifying The Spirits Within, since we watched the entire thing just a few weeks ago, but… eh.We will not be doing a look-back review for Before Crisis, because we didn’t actually play it, but it will be eligible for our next post.
Once again, rather than have one of us go “first” or “last,” we’ll be alternating perspectives, but we’ll reverse it from last time: Me -> Kyle -> Kyle -> Me. Kyle and I ended up shooting for entirely different sizes for our reviews, but that’s just a matter of style… also, I may have been rambling.
Let’s get started!
Kyle says: Hey there everyone, Kyle here once again to discuss a few more of the games we’ve been enjoying over the past few years. While it doesn’t seem like that long a time since we last did one of these lists, looking back, we’ve been pretty busy haven’t we? As always, thank you for joining us in our growing adventures. Of these games we were unfortunately unable to play through Final Fantasy VII Before Crisis ourselves. It’s a shame really as from watching a long let’s play series of it; it seems to do quite a decent job with the story… well, as well as it could have. I doubt with the Remake coming out that we’ll get any more from that particular title, but with the wild winds of DLC, who knows what might come up.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona
Got a little rambly about this one.
If you’ve read my Kingdom Hearts 2 Retrospective, you know that I mentally first-draft things from time to time, and that sometimes I lose what I feel was better review in the process, since I just don’t have time to put the thing to page before I forget it. I guess what I’m getting at here is that unless you were in my head late at night on January the 16th, you missed a great, “thoughts-only” expose on the Marathon’s worst-ever games, provoked entirely by this Look-Back just having to start with Persona 1.
How is this relevant? Well, did you figure I’d forgotten almost literally everything about Mega Man X Command Mission, despite remembering a lot of the real-world stuff Kyle and I were doing while playing the game? True story! It’s just such a “nothing game,” and its level design is severely at fault in that, taking a series known for having eight selectable stages, each with a distinct design, and turning it into a bunch of endless hallways. Do you see where I’m going with thi—Enter Persona 1! Persona 1 does have a little more level design variety than Command Mission, but it only uses them willy-nilly, with nothing to set one dungeon apart from the last other than the pretense of a difficulty curve.
And it really is the level design that I look back on on Persona 1, but I think it’s because neither the narrative nor the gameplay really deserve any attention. The weird, quasi-strategy combat’s not so bad outside of the loading screens required to move anyone from position to position (and I still can’t imagine why this is required), and the narrative’s pure garbage, so… what else could I think about endless halls of first person nothing? …Actually, now that I’ve put it that way, maybe that’s not worth thinking about either!
While it really started seeing more popularity in the third instalment, Persona started off as a spin off game. The main aspect of the game is using magical powers to combat demonic and supernatural threats. Given that it was a spinoff of Shin Megami Tensei, fair was never really an option from the start. While the exploring perspective was different, we were in for a long haul. Maki, it’s your fault.
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
You may have missed the optional scene in the original the original Final Fantasy VII in the Shinra Mansion basement (Ed. And original Japanese players didn’t even have the scene!). If you did, besides the short mention of Zack earlier, you wouldn’t know much about him. While you could guess his fate from that, he has a bit more involvement in the events leading up to VII. The gameplay itself is based more on an action RPG, but you’ll be seeing a lot of the same backdrops for the many side quests you’d be doing.
Crisis Core is one of those games that I keep wanting to go back to despite the fact that I know a looooooot of it is crap. Like, I’m not exaggerating when I say that most of the game are Missions, and that none of them are worth the trouble despite some occasionally comedic framing. And they’re so bite-sized as to be empty of content, too! Crisis Core’s successor game, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, has a reputation for being repetitive and a little dull, but imagine if you took that and then removed almost all level design variety! Crisis Core does have the unique single player missions, which are the best part in my mind, but it only underlines the pointlessness of the Missions you spend most of your time playing anyways!
A lot of the game’s appeal is tied up in Zack, easily Final Fantasy’s most likeable protagonist to date for me, despite being a total corporate stooge and mass-murderer. Yikes, what a stable of characters you’ve got that this guy comes out on top. But I like the dumb puppy. I like his relationship with all his supporting characters, and for a little while even with Sephiroth! It’s great character work, all built around a story that actively does not want Zack to be in it. Crisis Core literally makes it a plot point that Zack isn’t supposed to be a part of Genesis’ grand design, and yet it carries on, hefting neon signs it deliberately seems to have commissioned that read, “This story is stilted and unnatural, suck it up!” Crisis Core, you baffle me. And I still want to play you!
Final Fantasy VII
I probably shouldn’t be surprised that I’m retroactively drawn to FFVII’s gameplay, given my adoration of FFV’s Job System. True, FFVII and FFV are distant cousins, but they and FFT are in a whole ‘nother league than the rest of the series. Fellow Job System game FFIII is doing more of a puzzle thing, while the other “customizable” games are more about min-maxing, which is a different sort of fun that appeals to me at different times. FFII, FFVIII both end up creating the same super-being in every character slot, and FFLI and LII do the same within the bounds of their character classes. While those have their days, on average I prefer the customization of FFV, FFVII, and FFT.
I’m still not sold on the story, mind you, or the interface issues, which are almost a joke. But maybe I’ll get a chance to enjoy the minigames or what have you. So long as Cait Sith doesn’t get me to break my monitor in an attempt to reach through the screen to throttle Reeve Tuesti, maybe I’ll look back on the game a little fonder. But just a little.
If Final Fantasy VI wasn’t the beginning of RPG games for a vast amount of folks, then VII was likely it. Coming from the original PlayStation, the graphics have not aged necessarily great. It is an experience of a game that will likely last quite a while if you want to do everything you can. The story starts with fighting against a massive Corporate entity that is killing the planet and leads to stopping the end of the world.
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
The follow up movie to VII. There may have been a lot of hype going in to the movie, but did it really land it’s mark? It continued on similar threads as the game did. Overall only really Cloud or Vincent amount to much, which is sad considering the cast of characters. When even Yuffie barely gets to help it’s a sad day.
It’s not very good, folks. It’s really not. At its best, Advent Children has a story about grief and moving on, but it can’t even do that without having the bad guys constantly whining about how they want to go back to the way things were. And ugh, the whining!
And not just the whining, but the confusing editing! The untold storylines hinted at in the film were made the expectation that there would be a series of character-driven games and films to follow, but DoC killed them off before they could happen, leaving Advent Children hanging! The attempt but clear inability to properly tell the story in a way that outsiders could appreciate, or even established fans at times! There’s nothing clearer than Advent Children, even more than The Spirits Within, that turn of the century Square had CG art about fifteen points above everything else on their priority list. Just “Graphics” and then fourteen blanks.
What a mess.
Dirge of Cerberu: Final Fantasy VII
When I was doing my mental draft of “worst games in the Marathon – wait, what do you mean that’s not what we were trying to draft when this started,” the thing that struck me about Dirge of Cerberus is that it’s not a wholly bad game so much as a game with some severe quality dips. The controls don’t suck so much that I’d have to consider the whole game a wreck (at least not in the North American version), and there are some moments that were enjoyable… enough… that I could stand to go back and play the game again. But those frequent and extended dips into severely low quality are what you remember. The doldrums of Edge, WRO HQ, and the interminable Deepground base just go on and on in my memory like a brown and gray smoothie stuck in a blender. You had the entire world of Final Fantasy to use and you not only took just a handful (once again, probably in an effort to leave content for the “inevitable” later spinoffs) but drained the life out of nearly all of them! The copy and pasted robot bosses. The fact that you can literally dead-end your entire campaign by running out of money mid-way, as though this were a shop-driven version of a game from the dawn of shooters, where not picking up enough power-ups at the start kills you hours later.
And the story! While Dirge of Cerberus doesn’t outright insult like Persona 1 or what have you, it’s so awful and more importantly, awfully told that it’s hard to believe. It is probably the single worst story in the Marathon that isn’t dangling some real-world unpleasantness alongside. It’s rough, folks. And yet: I want to replay this game too! Goes to show!
Of the games in this universe this one feel into the category of, “Should we play this, or almost any other game?” Having Vincent as the protagonist this time around, much of the gameplay is focused on third person shooting. While the secret ending was teasing for another game down the line, I don’t see that happening…. unless the new Remake actually does something with it.
Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions
This was a nice change of pace compared to the traditional RPGs we tend to enjoy. A strategy game at its core, the inclusion of the Job system and allowing you to get different abilities from said Jobs added a lot of customization options. Some of the characters you get really were leagues above others though. If it weren’t for some really large difficulty spikes you’d almost find it was cheating a bit.
Speaking of games I want to replay, Final Fantasy Tactics comes close. It’s not that I want to replay FFT necessarily, but that I want to play any Final Fantasy Tactics game. I’m excited that FFTA is just around the corner, as these things go!
My general interest in the franchise rather than the original game stems from some obvious complaints. FFT itself is bogged down in a 1980s level of random encounters. It’s bogged down by it’s bloviated and uncomfortably regressive narrative that doesn’t know how to handle its own scope. And the game is surprisingly rigid! I’d probably enjoy things more if the tactics were more free-wheeling, with less “Carefully coordinate the entire board so that your Aim +7 lands on an enemy that you lured into the exact square at the exact right time,” but I know that’s probably just a preference thing. The game still does let you go Marathon-overboard with exploits, and that’s ultimately enough. Let’s see how FFTA goes, huh?
Final Fantasy VIII
FFVIII’s another game that has a min-maxing appeal, though its (extremely inadequate) attempts to level-scale undermine this a bit… which I’m sure was the point, though if it was the point, I have to mark them down for falling so short of the mark. Still, when I’m in a min-maxing mood, I sometimes want to play FFVIII, and I suppose that’s worth some credit, even though I haven’t bothered to do it yet.
Looking back at FFVIII, what I remember most is the story, and that’s because most of it is a tire fire. But the parts of it that aren’t a tire fire actually kind of work? This is one of Square’s only games where teens feel like teens (FFIX being the other). The love story’s okay, which FFIX can’t claim. And most of the characters are entertaining from moment to moment. Similar to DoC, it’s got its wild ups and downs, but FFVIII comes out more “up” than its latter-day cousin.
Chocobo World Mini-Review: Not abysmal but not worth 100 levels either.
When the game first came out I made the mistake of using the card Mod mechanics to get some really strong abilities early in. With the version we played though, there were those juicy achievements to go for. Oh! Right, the plot. Well, you’re part of an international mercenary group that does odd jobs and tries to kill one of the strongest beings in their existence. Time compression makes things strange, but thankfully our employer was still paying us even till the end of time itself.
Persona 2: Innocent Sin
Having played the original release of Eternal Punishment from the 90s, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Innocent Sin. The version we played was on the PSP which had a few quality of life improvements. This time around you ended up getting Cards in order to fuse different Personas for your group to make use of. In the end it’s a story where you don’t win, not really, which is why it had a sequel.
This was the “best” of the three Persona games for me, though if you’ll recall, that had more to do with its lack of general failures than any particular successes. In hindsight, I think I’m also willing to praise its characters, for all their attributes may be informed at times. Lisa, Michel, and Maya-with-an-actual-personality are such a bunch of gleeful extroverts that they’re just fun to watch, especially when they dig their own holes (“A BOMB?!?”). Jun could use some work since, as it is, he’s mostly just a quiet guy dealing with his plot-centric issues rather than any stand-alone character bits. Oh, and the ever-intrusive Yukino was kind of a pain in the ass to put up with, but the others were fine. I could stand to watch them in a better overall narrative, mind.
The combat gameplay in P2 isn’t so bad, and I imagine I might have liked P2IS even better if I had known it was meant to be automated (as we only learned during P2EP). Unfortunately, the level design hasn’t improved over P1, even if we’re in an entirely different perspective. I could really live without Atlus’ ongoing tribute to the boring parts of Wizardry-era RPGs, distilled from the larger and more enjoyable genre for reasons unknown to society at large, and I’m kind of relieved we never picked up a larger SMT Marathon as a result.
Persona 2: Eternal Punishment
It’s kind of hard to say much about Eternal Punishment, which is little more than an extra-large expansion pack to P2IS. It repeats elements without improving on them, like P1 and P2IS did with Wizardry, except now it does so in the narrative, too! I like the characters, except for the fact that they basically removed Maya’s personality to make her the protagonist (like I said in the opening post of the Journal, if Maya’s personality change was intentional, that would be interesting, but as it happened, they never sold me on that!). But that’s about as far as I’m willing to go. This was a repetitive, unnecessary game when considered in context with P2IS. Glad to see the back of it.
I had originally played this on my own quite a while ago, but never got to finishing it. I don’t quite remember where I hit the wall back then, but other fun game options made it so I forgot most of the heart ache. Upon playing it after Innocent Sin, you’ll notice how much similarity there is. It was done by design, but it really wasn’t doing itself any favours by having no real distinctive moments. Having been an earlier release, there also were not the quality of life improvements that Innocent Sin had.
Final Fantasy IX
A big change from what was becoming more standard to have very customizable characters, this game had every character feeling a bit more unique. The game itself had a lot of humour involved as well. Overall it had a more, “classic” feeling to it. You sure do get to control a lot of guest characters as well. Not that many of them are more useful then your actual party mind you. I personally found the game had quite a few good aspects going for it, but it tripped by the end.
Goodbye to Sakaguchi, as it were. You left off on a high point. While I wish Final Fantasy IX could have been a PS2 game to help eliminate its tech problems, the restricted PSX game that we got is ultimately high-calibre. I’ll leave this review shorter than the others because we finished coverage for the game so recently and there hasn’t been much time for my opinion to change, but saying it again won’t hurt anyone. If it weren’t for Disc 4 and my preference for Job System games, I’d probably like it best of all the games so far. Easily the best game of this era and the second-best of the Marathon RPGs so far.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
If I had little to say about the recently-reviewed FFIX, I have even less to say about the movie. Nothing fresh, anyways. It was okay. It wasn’t good, but it was okay. I understand why it was buried, but it’s buried along so many other movies of a similar make and model (indeed, I mean those comparisons double because it’s quite cliché, which doesn’t help). I don’t know how likely I am to ever watch it again, but I might, the same way I might watch… hrm, if you don’t even remember their names, is it really that likely? But TSW will linger in my mind as long as there’s a Marathon, and I suppose that stands for something.
A movie in which I was more surprised to enjoy it then I expected to. The models that they used still look quite nice. While the Plot itself wasn’t fantastic, it was still enjoyable. At certain points I kept half expecting quick time events to make it through the danger. I’m not sure if I’m more or less disappointed that there wasn’t those moments.
Final Fantasy Unlimited
Here was a show that had a pretty good idea to make the concept of a place of many broken worlds fun. The show itself kept a line between lighthearted and grim fairly well. In a way I kept hoping for our main protagonists to have some big moments, but sadly, they rarely bore fruit. There was one character who ended up doing practically all the work, and that was our morally questionable friend Kaze. In the show Soil (not to be confused with dirt), was a source of power. As an interesting means of summoning various iconic beings, Kaze had different cartridges of Soil to put within the Magun. While there were a few Summons he used multiple times, there was at least some variety. Beyond Cid and Lou Lupus, practically everyone had to wait for Kaze to save them. Soil, is my power!
As is apparently a running theme for this era: this product stinks, but I might watch it again anyways. Pfft, like I have the time to sit and rewatch a crappy anime. But the impulse is there, despite Unlimited being one of the true stinkers. Nearly everything that’s good about it is conceptual and buried by the actual execution of those concepts except for here and there. Even elements I like, like a few key episodes, or Elena Carrillo as the Earl (when the muttering quality of the product’s voice acting at large don’t muffle her), and a lot of what Oscha / Brian Jepson put on screen, suffer some major plunges the moment you turn your back.
Maybe it would be better to re-qualify my desire to watch the thing again, using something I once said to Kyle: “Kyle, I want to replay a version of Dirge of Cerberus that doesn’t suck.” Readers, I want to rewatch a version of Final Fantasy Unlimited that doesn’t suck. Dream big, readers. Dream impossible.
Next week: Our top and bottom five moments of this stretch of the Marathon!