Final Fantasy 2

Final Fantasy 2 took a lot of risks, that much is clear. For a game released in 1988, it had a lot of ideas that even today aren’t used often. The most obvious of which is that it is a skill-based game, not a level-based game.

As a general rule, I prefer skill-based for my Video Game RPGs. I feel it is more natural and offers some variations that level based can’t really touch. I was pretty excited by the idea of a skill-based Final Fantasy, however, the implementation is rough to say the least. So if you aren’t familiar with the base idea… if you use it, you get better at what you use. I only played the game a little bit (more on that later), but for the most part it seems ok. You don’t get like a point for each use, instead, I believe you get a greater chance of getting a point for each use. So as an example, using made up numbers, if you use a sword once in a fight you have a 5% chance of gaining a skillpoint. If you use a sword 5 times you have a 25% chance of gaining a skill point. 100 skill points and you get a level in the skill. And obviously as you level up a skill it gets increasingly more difficult to get skill points. The system is OK. the percentage chance means there are a lot of fights that you don’t get points for even if you use a skill… I find this weird. Each weapon type and spell is considered its own skill. In addition, HP and MP are use based as well… only way to get a higher max HP is to keep getting hit. But again it is percentage based on how much HP vs your max HP got hit. Even if you use most your HP in a fight… you aren’t guaranteed to gain more max HP.

The system is a bit grindy, this not abnormal for JRPGs, or even CRPGs, so is not a huge deal. The problem comes in the most natural way to grind… which is to attack yourself. I spent a couple hours in the newbie area just doing nothing but entering fights and attacking my friends. And each fight took an extreme amount of time. It was a really boring experience. I like the idea though. I have heard that Final Fantasy X returned to a skill based system and I would like to try it at some point to see if they  fixed some of the flaws from 2.

Final Fantasy 2 had a number of innovations for the series that would follow it on to today. Chocobos and the Chocobo forest were added, and really this was one of the first true unique beings within the Final Fantasy  Universe. They also introduced a rotating cast of characters. You start the game with 4 characters to name, 1 of which doesn’t play with you for much of the early game. This was really unique. They  basically set the stage for you to know from the get go that they were doing things differently here, much like in Final Fantasy 1 how saving the princess was only the beginning. Even worse, they chose the second character you named as the one to get rid of from the get go… well this was odd as I named my characters 0,1,2, and 3 because it was a Japanese game and I didn’t read Japanese and I wanted to be able to recognize my character names somewhat. Well my game went into 0, 2, 3 as my character names! Not a big deal, but kind of funny.

You then would have new party members coming and going throughout the story as required by the story  which was interesting and something they obviously decided to keep doing in future games of the series. The problem in this particular series is that many of the characters had no starting experience in any of their skills so you almost dreaded a new character being added because you would need to grind that character or just leave him be useless. Another weird thing is there was a glitch that counted each selection of an item/enemy as a use in the above system. So you would select a character to fight, back out over and over to gain extra uses in a fight. This didn’t work for the last character in the party (selecting him to fight would start the fighting round!), so grinding the last character in the party was a chore. All the new characters that got added were always the last character in your party, and unlike Final Fantasy 1, you had no ability to move people around. Oh well.

You did have the ability to move characters from the front row to the back. This is another feature that kind of continues in the series. This one in particular was more difficult though. If you put someone in the back row, it was a double edged sword. Enemies couldn’t touch them without magic or ranged weapons… but neither could you touch enemies. (And enemies had rows as well!) Was a cool feature, not a ton bad especially in a use based system. I could see this sort of restriction being a bigger deal if your person in the back row had no ranged weapons.

So as I previously stated, I was playing the japanese version of the game so I couldn’t really understand what was going on without reading guides. And so I had to trust what they told me to do and use. I can sort of read Japanese letters, but I don’t often know what the words mean. At some point the game I was supposed to take an item and throw it into an airship engine to make the airship explode… except the item the guide I was following told me to use didn’t work. I can only imagine that I either read it wrong or the guide gave it to me wrong. I looked up the word in other guides and it was spelled differently in the one other guide I could find. And I figure I must have accidentally deleted the item while trying to clean out my inventory earlier in the game. This sucked. I had no way of figuring out what exactly I was missing or if I actually missed picking up the item in the first place (which I don’t think i did).

My choice was simple. Restart or end it. The thought of going through hours of really  boring grinding did not sound great so I decided to end it. So my end story  that I cam up with for my  adventure is this…

My friends and I lived in a small town that started being attacked by  the imperial army with t heir giant flying warship. They began attacking all the neighboring towns as well. So we underwent a mission in which we snuck onto their airship, started throwing random shit into the engine in hopes of it blowing up. After this failed, we shrugged our shoulders and swore our fealty to the empire!

Hopefully Final Fantasy 3 works out better!

What it Takes to be an RPG

Over the last several years I have put a lot of thought into what exactly makes an RPG an RPG. A big reason this has been happening is the inclusion of games that are clearly NOT RPGs into the genre due to the inclusion of Levels and Items in that particular game. Borderlands is probably the biggest example, but I have seen Bioshock Infinite mentioned as an RPG as well, and heck if that is what it takes… SSX is probably an RPG in many people’s eyes as well. So with that, I have talked about what it takes to be an RPG with many friends in Real Life and we have kind of come up with this list of qualifications:

1) Story – An RPG must have a story. There is a caveat here in that early RPG stories are excusable to be near non-existent. Though, early RPGs are almost a proof rather than a counter to this point. Akalabeth for instance has nearly no story, but there is in fact a story. Just having a story in 1979 or 1980 is not a small thing so we do count it every bit as much as modern games even though it wasn’t any better than the story of Super Mario Bros. Presence of a meaningful story (to the times) is a must though, I am hard pressed to think of any RPG without a meaningful story outside of early games in the genre.

2) Non-Questing Items – This implies items whose sole purpose is made for a quest or solving a puzzle, such as a key. In addition to just having items, there should be a choice in the usage of these items. For instance, there not only is a sword, but maybe different types of sword and it is player choice as to which sword to use (even if there is a clear “best” sword to use).

3) Stats – Whether directly viewable by the player or not, there should be stats for the character as well as items, and generally there is a way to manipulate these stats. (Equipping an item to raise your strength for instance.)  In fact, i generally consider the manipulation of stats to be one of the ultimate objectives  of an RPG besides the story. An easy example is that you can play Pokemon, but there is a second level to the game where you are trying to breed and train pokemon to have the best stats possible. This is the manipulation that RPG fans enjoy that a non-RPG with stats often lacks.

4) Indirect Combat – Combat in an RPG has with it the player directing combat rather than the player with direct control of a character within combat. What I mean by this is, with Combat in an RPG, you tell a character to fight a monster with a sword and that character fights said monster using the character’s stats and random chance to win or lose. In combat that has direct control, you as the player directly aim a weapon and click a button where every button click is a usage of the weapon or spell. It is for this reason primarily that games like Zelda, Borderlands, and Gauntlet are not RPGs, but are a different beast. There is a similarity to God-Games here… you are a God influencing your character very strongly, but you are not the character himself.

5) Distinct Protagonists – This is seems like kind of a no duh type of requirement, but there are games out there lacking a distinct protagonist. For instance, Black & White contains no protagonist at all. Protagonists can come in the form of a solo adventurer but in an RPG you rarely will have more than say 6. Usually it is 1 to 4 protagonists.

That is in essence an RPG as I see it. I will note, though I am sure there is room for breaking these rules, I cannot think of a game that breaks any of them outside of the caveat for story. Really, it comes down to feel. Most RPG fans can sit down and play a game and tell if it is an RPG. This is my best attempt at explaining why it is that I can sit down and play Dark Souls and recognize it to not be an RPG even though on the surface it can seem like it. Other games can have aspects of an RPG, and in fact I would say level and items in this day and age should be in pretty much every game. Heck, you can consider Super Mario Bros, to have a second level if you consider being big the second level.

I also feel the need to note that not classifying a game as an RPG is by no means a slam on the game. I talk about certain games not being RPGs with people and for some reason they get very angry about the idea that the game they enjoy is not an RPG. As if their game is somehow worse because of it. Neither of these is true. Borderlands, for instance, is not an RPG, I enjoy playing it from time to time. Zelda is not, and I love that game. Dark Souls is not, and is a great game. Games can be good without being an RPG.  And RPGs can be bad games despite being an RPG. There are a lot of genres out there and all of them have really great games that are totally worth playing. The entire logic behind why we categorize into genres is because people have preferences in games. I for instance have a general dislike for sports games, FPS games, and RTS games. And so when someone classifies an FPS as an RPG, I may be more inclined to get into a game than if it were just a great FPS game. I might try to put up with some of the negatives about the genre just to get the experience.  Hell I always have thought there is no way you could have a game that is an FPS and an RPG so the idea kind of intrigues me. When a game fails to live up to the RPG side of things I am let down. I would rather a game be a great FPS than a crappy RPG and I’m not sure why others would rather it be a crappy RPG just because it is a great FPS.