Classics 2


 

  • Final Fantasy I PSP
  • Final Fantasy II PSP
  • Final Fantasy III PC
  • Final Fantasy X PC
  • Final Fantasy X-2 PC
  • Final Fantasy XII PC
  • Final Fantasy VIII PC
  • Final Fantasy VII Switch
  • Final Fantasy IV PC
  • Final Fantasy V GBA
  • Final Fantasy IX Switch
  • Final Fantasy VI GBA
  • Final Fantasy I PSP

    So the PSP version cleans up the already Properly Remade PS1 version substantially, making for a surprisingly fun experience but… ultimately this is still a fairly old game, and it shows. It’s better than I’d think, but it’s still a fairly neutral game. Worth at least playing once.
    Total Story Score: -1
    Total Gameplay Score: +3
    Cheats: Yes (Savestates and Fast Forward, for sloggy reasons)
    Total Play Time: 2 Days // 11 Hours
    Time Reviewed: 12-03-2019

    Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

    Story Positives:

    Story Negatives:

    • The ending is just not good. The time travel aspect is actively self contradicting and lead to ‘it was all a dream’ reset button

    Gameplay Positives:

    • Some good quality of life interface features (Optimize or Remove equipment, sorting inventory, R and L to swap quickly, auto dash, menu stuff, etc.)
    • The music is wonderfully arranged based on the original, and is legitimately beautiful in how it flows
    • There are many truly excellent songs in the game, including the shrine, final dungeon, town, and overworld
    • There is excellent flow and design in the nature of the overworld and how it’s built (what you can access, where you can land) and it doesn’t railroad you too hard or lightly, and contributes to the adventuring tone of the work
    • Aggregate: The bestiary has some good info // The intro to the game is not the best, but is still good; establishes the initial quest, introduces combat, equpiment, spells, story tidbits, doesn’t hold your hand or slam you in the face, and guides you well // The super optional dungeon gimmicks are actually pretty cool // Chaos is a decently fun and interesting final boss fight

    Gameplay Negatives:

    • The encounter rate is just too high
    • Aggregate: Invisible encounter tiles, which can lead to issues, throughout the game // Nothing in the game indicates how certain aspects of game design works // The final dungeon is kind of not good, mostly at the beginning, and that’s just sub standard for a final dungeon

    Final Fantasy II PSP

    As with 1, the game is definitely touched up from the original but sadly they leave in the overwhelming majority of actual design decisions. The ‘use it to level it’ system isn’t bad in and of itself, but the game fails to capitalize on this system across the board, making the entire thing an absolute chore, and actively player hostile at times. I hated playing this game, salvaged by its decent (if somewhat absent) story. Play it with cheats. Mega-cheats if you can.
    Total Story Score: +3
    Total Gameplay Score: -11
    Cheats: Yes (Savestates and Fast Forward, for sloggy reasons, also mega-cheated Soul of Rebirth to avoid grind)
    Total Play Time: 2 Days // 11 Hours
    Time Reviewed: 12-06-2019

    Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

    Story Positives:

    • The intro (terminating after the first boss, the turtle dude) is surprisingly good at establishing theme and tone. It keeps things grounded, shows us ground-level perspective of the war, and is logical in how and what we need to fight back. It also makes it very clear how dark the game is overall
    • Soul of Rebirth adds good stuff throughout, with additional world building, characterization for Mateus, Minwu, Josef, Scott, and Richard, and tidbits for Cid, as well as just being a cool section… storywise
    • Aggregate: Minwu is easily the best character in the game, being reliable, self-sacrificing, and cool // The thrust of the main plot and the struggle against the Palamecian Empire is engaging and interesting // The game is quite dark without going into edgy or darkier, and holds nothing back about permanent consequences and killing off characters and whole towns // The horror of the world being wrecked, the overworld mobs changing to suit, the Cyclone and internal fortress, and the slow walk up to the first encounter with Mateus are all good

    Story Negatives:

    Gameplay Positives:

    • Good quality of life features (optimize equipment, sorting inventory, R and L to quick swap, auto dash, menu customization, etc.)
    • There are several truly great songs in the game, notably Pandemonium, the Rebel Army, and Deist
    • Aggregate: The bestiary has some good info (though not as good as 1’s) // Spell animations are pretty cool and, better, upgrade over time as you level spells // There’s some reasonably good sprite work for Altair and a few other locations

    Gameplay Negatives:

    • The power progression curve is incredibly unbalanced and arguably badly designed. Most weapons are effectively not worth using because unarmed is just unilaterally superior throughout the entire game, armor is demonstrably worse than unarmored because the evasion stat is just that much better than defense, and spells have to be leveled individually, person by person, which all leads to a curve that is wonky as hell unless you already know what you’re doing
    • The overworld. It’s badly designed cosmetically, and badly designed gameplay wise. It’s not just an absence of flow, it’s actively player hostile and has no ‘opening up’ design… which is especially weird since the first game had that
    • Troll Rooms (multiple room options in dungeons with no indication of what the correct path is, while simultaneously teleporting you into the middle of the room if you pick the wrong one and massively increased encounter rate within, which only gets worse the further in the game you get)
    • The Intro… is awful. It combines most of the problems of the rest of the game, with an unclear path to progressing, a too-long dungeon with multiple Troll Rooms, a disinteresting boss fight, and a few other niggling issues
    • Encounter rate is, per usual for the time, just too high
    • Dungeon design is a combination of absent and awful, with heavy reliance on dead ends and troll rooms and effectively not too much else
    • The difficulty curve is, as per usual, wonky and relies too heavily on you leaning on spells, and has multiple cliffs
    • The music resets to beginning, rather than remembering its position in the song, which causes aggravations
    • Backtracking! You have to go back to Altair so damned many times it gets really old
    • Itemization is just awful, with long windy paths leading to treasures that aren’t worthwhile 90% of the time, sometimes literally requiring you to backtrack an entire dungeon to grab three useless items
    • AOE petrify and confuse attacks from enemies with high speed who often ambush you leads to what is effectively an RNG game over from no real fault of the player, which is worsened by the fact that the best way to avoid this is to spam cast spells on yourself to grind your magic defense up
    • Soul of Rebirth grind… is just atrocious, and incredibly padding’d for what is ultimately a fairly short section
    • Aggregate: Mysidia Tower. Very long, horrible layout, eighteen Troll Rooms, and enemies that are fast, ambush, and spam status effects // Cyclone, where almost the entire dungeon is one long Troll Room if you go the wrong way // Jade, good lord, Jade
    • Aggregate: The boss song is just awful, weird, and utterly unsuitable for a boss song // Running away is horribly designed, and only gets better with unintuitive leveling thanks to the… ‘leveling’ system, and there are some formations you just can’t run from // The level of some spells (Esuna, Life, Teleport) determines its hit chance in combat which… can seriously suck

    Final Fantasy III PC

    As with all of the original 3, even the remake still has substantial problems. What’s most aggravating is the core game is fine, it’s just hampered by easily-patched or modded issues; general slowdown, encounter rate through the roof, inability to save except on the overworld, and easily the grindiest of the first 3. This one’s still worth a playthrough… with cheats, which are easily available on the PC version.
    Total Story Score: 0
    Total Gameplay Score: -8
    Cheats: Yes (experience increase and reduced encounters to avoid grind)
    Total Play Time: 3 Days // 15 Hours
    Time Reviewed: 12-09-2019

    Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

    Story Positives:

    • A very real theme of adventuring prevails throughout, as you go from quest to quest solving local issues
    • Finally leaving the Floating Continent, flying out and finding just… a vast, barren, frozen realm shrouded in the literal clouds of darkness is a great moment, and really gets across how badly the darkness stasis is
    • Aggregate: The party quips with guest members are good stuff, only hampered by how random they are // While minute, there’s some good little ‘emotes’ the characters use to help express themselves in cutscenes // The light hearted tone really does help the overall presentation // The ‘everyone from previous adventures’ helping us redirect and escape the curse of the wyrms is a neat scene

    Story Negatives:

    • There is a lack of central plot or cohesion to the story, and it lacks depth due to effectively switching gears each new quest
    • There’s entirely too much convenience in the plot, to the point of ridiculousness (the solution to any given local issue is always just a few feet away, or on hand from the previous quest… like Unnei’s dreamstone kills all regular stone thing, or the mythril ring at the beginning
    • Xande and related plot holes, inconsistent lore and world building, and a disappointing lore dump in the World of Darkness

    Gameplay Positives:

    • The class system is actually neat, allowing you to swap more or less at will out of combat and being balanced enough that, for the most part, each class is useful for something or another. They also all look cool and distinct
    • As with FFI, there is a definite good flow and design to the overworld, both aesthetically and gameplay wise
    • Aggregate: There’s a decent amount of variety to the job appearances, and it sticks in cutscenes // The art style of the characters is decent, notably in cutscenes // There are several good songs in late game

    Gameplay Negatives:

    • The intro is entirely too difficult and grindy for being… the intro. You also don’t get the jobs until the intro is done, which really should have happened earlier given how absolutely awful the Freelancer jobs are
    • Unskippable cutscenes (made even worse because most of them are the fade in-fade out style)
    • Absence of itemization is aggravating; cannot buy Phoenix Downs, Tents and the like do not exist, there’s very few ways to restore ‘mana’, etc.
    • There’s a weird delay and slowdown to almost everything; entering combat, entering commands, taking actions, selecting menu options out of combat, entering and exiting zones, etc.
    • Encounter rates, as per usual for older RPGs, are just too high
    • Lack of save points, meaning you can only save on the overworld, which combined with the slowness of combat and frequency of encounters can lead to losing huge chunks of your life because screw you
    • There are multiple aggravating grind walls in the game
    • There’s a built in difficulty curve that mandates grinding because the power progression curve isn’t stylized to match the difficulty curve
    • The outro is not good. There’s two ‘final dungeons’ back to back with no saves and no breaks, 9 bosses, and lots of grind walls everywhere. The recommended level for this place is 70
    • In addition to the previous outro problem, the sheer length and arduousness of it serves as a good demonstration of all the game’s problems in a nutshell; no saves, no phoenix downs or methods of restoring magic uses, long dungeons with unskippable cutscenes, very high encounter rate, RNG of battle difficulty, etc.
    • Aggregate: The sound effect of going in and out of places is just irritating // The font selection for the PC port is poor // There’s a laziness to the design of towns in terms of how pixelated and slanted (to add to the visual illusion of the top down camera) stuff is (trees, buildings, etc.) // Several songs are just not pleasant in the remake // There’s a hostile architecture problem with some ‘faded to black’ dungeon walls that are walls and some that are doors

    Final Fantasy X PC

    A repeat playthrough of this reinforces my opinion that this is a flawed masterpiece. It does as much right as it does wrong with the gameplay, and I adore the turn based combat, and with careful tactics you can avoid grind almost entirely, but where the game really shines is the fantastic story that somehow manages to be amazing despite dealing with all of the issues of being their first take at voice acting and related issues with direction, localization, and forced timing. If you haven’t played it, hugely recommended.
    Total Story Score: +11
    Total Gameplay Score: 0
    Cheats: Yes (to beat Goers, to get a few Ability Spheres at Mi’Hen, occasional use of in-game speed up and auto battle, auto-heal at second Seymour fight, and to show off endgame content)
    Total Play Time: 5 Days // 40 Hours
    Time Reviewed: 12-16-2019

    Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

    Story Positives:

    • Opening (A very good Quiet Opening, with somber lighting and surroundings, people acting morosely, a sad melody, etc. all dragging your attention in immediately)
    • There is a lot of great showing not telling in the Intro, most notably during the Otherworld cutscene which very efficiently and powerfully establishes many points: Sin’s power, Auron’s presence, the fall from decadence theme, Tidus being ripped from his comfort zone, etc.
    • Wakka is a great example of a common believer in the Yevon faith; he follows what he’s taught, but he also questions it, and effectively self-polices his faith… he’s also one of the few characters to get good voice acting in the game consistently, and is generally a nice guy who is also very flawed. A very very human character
    • The intro is just gold, almost across the board. Lots of showing not telling, great establishment of characters and setting, central plot and initial quests, and of course the whole thing feels completely differently the second time around
    • The destruction of Killika hits right in the feels each time I see it, and the follow up scenes and build up really help to firmly establish the ‘natural disaster’ nature of Sin as well as give a very ground-level view of what devastation he causes
    • The dynamic between Jecht, Tidus’ mother, and Tidus is complex, nuanced, and subtle. The game slants it as if Jecht is a horrible person, but we see his mother was far more neglectful and simply endured longer, and Jecht is simultaneously a nice and loving person who is also narcissistic, and of course there’s the fact that Jecht was a bad drunk, and the whole thing is awesome
    • Auron gets a very strong proper introduction at Luca, and the scene between him and Tidus is genuine and well presented, and further the not-really-twist of Jecht = Sin is a nice touch in that it’s not really a twist (that’ll wait until Zanarkand) but does change the dynamic of Tidus’ relation to Spira substantially
    • Memes aside, hate aside, I really like the Tidus and Yuna scene. It shows how horrifying it is to live in Spira in a very personal way, it’s touching because of how it shows the two properly connecting, the fake laughter leading to real laughter, him being uncomfortable with it despite his position, etc.
    • The reveal of Yuna’s sacrifice is intellectually powerful, if lacking in emotional punch, and you can really comprehend just how awful Tidus feels for all that’s happened to-date in his interactions with Yuna. It’s also the biggest moment to really make the first half of the game feel completely different. Finally, this is a key turning point in the story, with Tidus (and crew) starting to look for solutions, now that they’re aware of the problem
    • The combat banter is well done in this one. It varies based on story and location, and isn’t too common to be irritating
    • The big climactic scene with Yunalesca is still one of the best scenes in the franchise, and even lackluster voice direction doesn’t ruin its impact or power
    • There are many memorable, interesting secondary and tertiary characters throughout the game that add to the flavor
    • Auron remains one of the better parts of the story, managing to not just be cool, but to showcase what’s left when faith is broken, and that desperate desire for a change… a true, real change, rather than a false, poisonous hope
    • The finale and ending are powerful as hell, hitting me right in the feels every time. The final confrontation with Jecht, Auron’s goodbye (having finally found a world changed), Yuna and Tidus’ farewell, and that one, last high five by Jecht and Tidus
    • The emotional impact of the final farewell to your Aeons hits substantially, and right in the gut
    • Aggregate: Rikku and Yuna aren’t the best characters, but they’re still good, with arcs and critical roles in the story, and help add to perspective and presentation
    • Aggregate: Tidus is an interesting, if flawed, character, who is a very precise shape for the hole he was shoved into in the story // Jecht, while mostly fleshed out in optional content, is nonetheless a good classic example of the flawed narcissist turning it around and becoming a hero

    Story Negatives:

    • Voice direction in general is substantially lacking throughout the entire game, to the point where many lines have the wrong tone, emotion, emphasis, and even timing
    • Consistently bad voice direction, all the way up to the end, actively ruining scenes that should have had far better impact and require emotional distancing to properly appreciate
    • A massive aggregate for many smaller plot holes or issues where things are a bit too melodramatic or otherwise silly / stupid
    • Technically an Aggregate, but there are many issues with the big twist reveal about Yuna; the build up, the writing around the problem, the camera work, the voice direction, the music direction, the animation, etc.
    • The entire fake drama scene of the wedding, capture, the illogic of events, the weirdly forced ‘oh my gawsh’, just… gechk
    • Aggregate: Costumes suck and are actively distracting (Seymour!) // Tidus (properly) acts completely un-used to the sword and literally falls on his rear before suddenly and inexplicably being a combat vet for the rest of the game // There are multiple scenes where Tidus is just… dumb to the point of removing my enjoyment of the scene

    Gameplay Positives:

    • The Overdrive system is just phenomenal
    • Built in cheats are good, but the variety and selection of built in cheats are excellent and most of them toggleable on or off at will
    • Turn based gameplay and UI design is excellent, with a delay system, full turn based, and a full visible target and turn indicator which can be scaled forwards
    • I rather enjoy the management side of Blitzball; recruiting, leveling, training, learning, etc.
    • Equipment customization system is phenomenal, with equipment having ‘slots’ allowing you to mix and match all sorts of abilities to make whatever gear you want within reason
    • There’s generally good interface design decisions; The ability to see who’s in your party right now, little purple arrows showing what’s currently equipped, dots showing who’s been where on the grid, highlighting who’s still in need of healing items, etc. etc. etc.
    • There are several legitimately well designed and interesting boss fights; the Spectral Keeper, Yunalesca, several of the Arena Bosses
    • Properly designed difficulty curve all the way through Zanarkand, with no needed grinding all the way up (though that required some good tactics and prep work)
    • Aggregate: Map design is easily understandable and informative // Built in options are pretty damned good on the PC version // There’s several small things done to speed up combat that helps keep it punchy and prevent it from slogging too badly // The final boss (The real one, against Jecht) is good stuff

    Gameplay Negatives:

    • Unskippable cutscenes
    • Unskippable cutscenes are some of the worst in all of gaming, with huge, slow, long cutscenes in between save points and bosses (and with the advent of the autosave this is barely changed, since it usually involves autosaving back to the last screen, which is usually right by a save anyways)
    • The intro is lacking at best in the gameplay department, and worse has a severe problem with heavily forced tutorialization (including literally greying out options they don’t want you to pick)
    • Blitzball itself is just too slow and sloggy, especially if you really dig into it, and involves a fair bit of walkthroughitis in who to recruit (and when), and the whole thing is a massive grind long term
    • Cloisters… are slow, insisting on playing every single animation to full length each time, they interrupt both game and narrative flow hard, and they are barely puzzles (leaning entirely too much on trial and error)
    • Bevelle Cloister is, by itself, absolutely atrocious in its tedious, semi random, aggravating, time wasting design
    • Sphere Grid Grind and arduousness in menu, especially given other issues with the Grid itself (minuscule increments in power, odd approach to customization, lots of empty nodes, incredibly grindy past a certain point, etc.)
    • The ultra endgame is just one long horrible slog of grind
    • Aggregate: Forcing party members at point // Irritation of swapping while leveling // Dark Aeons which, in addition to being boring stat walls from hell, are also literally in the way of re-accessing areas at the Freedom Point // The last dungeons are not interesting, are some of the larger difficulty cliffs in the game, have multiple irritating design decisions, and are ultimately just boring

    Final Fantasy X-2 PC

    One of the weirdest games I’ve ever reviewed. On the surface level it’s awful, and the ‘cotton candy’ coating over most of it really ruins it for me. But there’s nuggets of great character and world building, and I absolutely adore the combat, job system, and the general excellence in gameplay design across the board (not counting a few notable exceptions). Definitely recommend at least a once through if you’ve never tried it.
    Total Story Score: +1
    Total Gameplay Score: +9
    Cheats: Yes (Bypassing Spherebreak, and auto-heal cheat on two bosses to speed things up)
    Total Play Time: 3 Days // 20 Hours
    Time Reviewed: 12-18-2019

    Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

    Story Positives:

    • There’s a substantial amount of ground-level world building throughout the game, though a lot of it is optional
    • Pretty much every scene with Wakka is, no surprise, good stuff; showcasing his uncertainty and hesitation in this new future, not knowing how to be a good father, wanting to cling to the past while being willing to lose it, all good stuff
    • There’s a lot of good character and world building in the Chapter 4 commspheres section
    • The 1000 Words section is beautifully done, good exposition, and really shows the emotional power at the core of the story, and highlighting the tragedy of Lenne and Shuyin
    • Though most of it is optional, the design and layers to Paine makes for good characterization and growth. She’s an introvert, but she’s just as silly as everyone else, and she’s been hurt, but she’s trying to grow from that. It’s what Lightning should have been, and a good overall take
    • Yuna’s emotional journey throughout the game is fantastic, culminating in the wonderful scene where she admits, finally, just how unhappy and sad she really is, and refuses to accept regret anymore… and refuses to fake smiling

    Story Negatives:

    • Brother
    • Rikku is just awful in this game. Her being excited and happy, sure. Her being excessively random, ehh. Her being actively stupid? No
    • Technically an aggregate, but there are just many moments that are beyond description. They’re not childlike, they’re not energetic, they’re not ridiculous, they’re just awkward and cringe-worthy
    • The music, whether you like it or not, is horribly mis-applied to scenes, actively ruining the impact of otherwise decent or good scenes
    • The cotton candy coating over the story makes it difficult to properly appreciate

    Gameplay Positives:

    • Good New Game +
    • Easily one of the best combat systems in the franchise (fast, fluid, allows for very tactical and frenetic combat, and encourages combinations across jobs and movesets)
    • Combat: You can use abilities you learn in combat immediately after learning, the game auto moves targets properly based entirely on animation timing, substantial work done on revamping the skeletons of the three party members so they have good, interesting, and fluid animations, the ability to manipulate the ‘stack’ to determine what happens when
    • A second positive for generally fun and excellent combat throughout
    • The intro is efficient and well designed, quickly tutorializing all the basics of the gameplay and tone thereof (dungeons, jobs, grids, combat, swapping, ‘platforming’, etc.)
    • The job system is fantastic. Each job is designed to be at least situationally useful, and there are tons of worthwhile combinations and setups you can do with them
    • Built in cheats are good, but the variety and selection of built in cheats are excellent and most of them toggleable on or off at will
    • There’s generally good and informative UI design, especially in combat, quickly letting you know who is doing what, where, with what debuffs and times, etc. as well as having ‘standardized’ menu selection in combat (unlike, say, FFX)
    • There are several side quests and minigames that are pretty fun, and enjoyable to play through
    • Effort is made to keep things balanced throughout; Side quests are worthwhile, accessories are useful, each job has its uses, missions give xp even if you avoid encounters, all of this leads to one of the smoothest power progression curves in the series
    • Generally well done power progression curve throughout, with absolutely no mandatory grind unless you want to max out or do end game stuff, coupled with good, relatively low encounter rate throughout
    • Well designed difficulty curve throughout, including well designed optional encounters that are properly difficult
    • Aggregate: At multiple points, effort is made to ensure you always have access to either immediately going back to the ship, a nearby shop, or something to ensure you don’t get soft locked // There’s a large number of very small polishing touches to the combat

    Gameplay Negatives:

    • There is a consistent, if low-key, walkthroughitis problem across the game where it is entirely too easy to screw up side quests or lock yourself out of events or content because you did things just a little bit wrong
    • There are several side quests which are, frankly, not fun, badly designed, or generally disinteresting
    • The Chapter 4 Commsphere section is awfully designed; It’s hard to tell when or what you need to see, it can involve a lot of waiting, and there’s almost nothing to indicate it
    • The outro is generally lackluster; boring final dungeon with bad music and disinteresting final boss fights

    Final Fantasy XII PC

    This is a definite recommended with an asterisk. Very strong early story that breaks apart in late game, and some great gameplay concepts hampered by some awful ones. A ‘flawed masterpiece’ to be sure. Highly, highly recommend playing with a cheat to increase loot drops off enemies (Cheat Engine has such a cheat for PC) and with a walkthrough, which negates several of the gameplay design issues.
    Total Story Score: +18
    Total Gameplay Score: -2
    Cheats: Yes (To avoid redoing Draklor, and to avoid endgame grind and to show off endgame Hunts)
    Total Play Time: 4 Days // 23 Hours
    Time Reviewed: 12-22-2019

    Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

    Story Positives:

    • A truly excellent opener, with very good and efficient visual exposition, storytelling, cool factor, and tone establishment, as well as symbolism… plus good camera-work and editing
    • A truly excellent job of localization, which not only takes into account spoken word rather than written, but has a good usage of New English in order to convey the particular archaic tone of the work
    • Absolutely excellent doodad placement and general NPC usage in towns to the point where it really, really adds to the fleshing out of said towns
    • Lindblum Effect is really on display, especially in the three main cities of the game (Rabanastre, Archadia, Bhujerba)
    • The initial speech by Vayne is wonderfully crafted and does a great job of not only showing the type of character he is, but of showcasing the type of writing the game has in general
    • The intro is generally good stuff across the board, efficiently and positively establishing characters, theme, tone, setting, and plot
    • The turn of the story, with the destruction of the 8th fleet, and how Ghis completely interrupts the entirety of the story, thus setting off a huge chain of events going forwards, is just great
    • The voice acting in general is top notch across the board
    • Vayne
    • Basch
    • Balthier
    • Ashe
    • Larsa
    • World building is all over the place, excellent, detailed, and well thought out
    • The sequence of cutscenes leading up to and including Vayne’s claiming of power as autocrat of Archadia are fantastic every time I see them
    • For the first half of the game or so, there’s a general quality to the writing that’s above and beyond standard, in terms of dialogue and events’ progression
    • Generally good camera work and cinematography throughout the major cutscenes
    • There is a truly large amount of excellent world building at all levels, from individuals to cultures to food to magic to technology to history to war… it’s only lacking in a few key areas (notable inclusions of world building lore are in Hunts, NPCs, and the Bestiary)
    • The music selection, while almost entirely atmospheric, does add to the ambiance and vibe of almost every scene it’s in
    • Archades is just… so awesome, with the culture of perceived decency, information, and chops determining social and economic status
    • The culmination scene of the Occuria, and subsequent relevance to Ashe’s journey from villain to hero, and presentation of both Venat and their relevance to Cid and Vayne… is great stuff
    • The climax cutscene at the top of the Pharos is pure gold; Gabranth showcasing his shame overwhelming his sense of duty and growing core, Ashe finishing her journey away from villain, Cid proving the final provocation, and Vaan being relevant for the final time
    • Aggregate: Reddas, Doctor Cid, and Gabranth are all very interesting characters with their own relevance, character arc (in the case of Gabranth), and general enjoyment

    Story Negatives:

    • There are multiple moments of general cringe (usually associated with Vaan) which tend to drag multiple scenes down and feel jarring and out of place
    • There are several noticeable holes in the overall storytelling and plot, almost entirely due to the amount of cut content the game had but it’s to the point where it detracts from an otherwise very logical and well thought out sequence of events and world
    • There is a difficult-to-define sudden shift in tone and presentation of story the moment you head to Giruvegan which strongly reduces my enjoyment of the overall story. It feels like all the interesting stuff is going on over there while we’re off randomly descending into mystical hell because that’s what JRPGs do
    • General absence of story in the latter chunk of the game
    • There is a weird lack of visual continuity in zone design, to the point where it feels like you’re just randomly teleporting between disconnected worlds rather than following a linear path across the map

    Gameplay Positives:

    • Gambits; putting the AI in the hands of the player and allowing you to set up the scripts is awesome, and it’s optional
    • A second positive for Gambits and the complexity and design thereof
    • There are several good and efficient interface design elements that make perusing and moving through menus swift and easy, which is good considering how much this game leans on pre-battle strategy (notable addition; almost always visible boss health)
    • Generally good minimap and area map design, with icons and connecting points clearly indicated and easily navigable
    • There’s a generally good amount of and variety to the kit allowed in this game; Lots of passive License abilities, spells, techniques, equipment which isn’t just stat based, etc.
    • The usage and positioning of ‘overworld enemies’ allows the encounter rate to sit entirely on the player’s shoulders, whether they choose to avoid or encounter or grind is up to them (also helps when you’re specifically looking for one type of mob to hunt or steal from)
    • The Archades ‘dungeon’ is great stuff, encouraging the player to think through a ‘social puzzle’ rather than combat or traditional puzzle design
    • Overworld design is generally good, with nice layouts, visual storytelling, internal consistency, etc.

    Gameplay Negatives:

    • There is a severe grind problem… not in levels like a traditional RPG, but instead in grinding drops, gil, and License Points, designed entirely too much like a typical MMO
    • The intro takes entirely too long to really showcase the gameplay (notice how long it takes to reach the point of even unlocking Gambits proper) and effectively is much of the gameplay problems of the game as a whole zoomed in
    • The dungeon design is lackluster at the best of times, with long empty hallways filled with occasional enemies, and it gets worse from there
    • There is a decent amount of lore locked behind otherwise irritating things to do; these include filling out the bestiary (which by itself isn’t bad, but the number of and random spawns of many enemies make it a complete chore) and Hunts (which can get very grindy and boring, especially after the difficulty spikes)
    • There is an astonishing amount of walkthroughitis in the optional stuff, which is compounded by the sheer amount of RNG and/or specific things you need to do to accomplish them
    • The difficulty spikes at several points in the game, more or less mandating grind (as part of the MMO design)
    • The Great Crystal is arguably textbook bad dungeon design. Boring, repeating same-looking rooms, excessive load screens rather than being able to see where you’ve been, no map… it’s not that bad the first time through, but heaven help you if going back to get optional stuff
    • Incredibly poorly implemented ‘invuln’ phases in the form of Palings which don’t do anything interesting with the idea at all and just drag the fight out
    • Pharos is long, boring, sloggy, walkthroughitisy, and basically all the worst aspects of the other dungeons made even worse
    • Last dungeon and final bosses are lackluster, boring, and ultimately disappointing

    Final Fantasy VIII PC

    I’ve defended Final Fantasy VIII for years, but even I was surprised by the net score here. While flawed in many, many ways (a trait it shares with the PS2 bundle in general) there’s still some great stuff shining in this game. I highly recommend one pick up the PC Remaster version and play with cheats to really enjoy it.
    Total Story Score: +8
    Total Gameplay Score: +2
    Cheats: Yes (magic cheat to test, survive cheat to not redo fights, and mega cheat to emulate breaking the game without the grind to do so)
    Total Play Time: 3 Days // 19 Hours
    Time Reviewed: 12-25-2019

    Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

    Story Positives:

    • The Intro sets up a lot; foreshadowing plot, character, and setting points as well as having a great mercenary vibe to it
    • First Laguna sequence is great; we meet Julia, Laguna, establish the time nature of it, actually funny, and legitimately good camera work
    • There’s a surprisingly large amount of (entirely optional) flavor lore everywhere, in little skits or NPCs you can talk to or things you can read or Scans you can do, etc.
    • There is a lot of obvious tight crafting to the plot to showcase things both making sense and logically following, which also coincides with a lot of Babylon 5 Effect
    • There’s a surprisingly large amount of humor which still gets me laughing to this day
    • At multiple points the game is quite creative with its usage of camera and direction, but most notably during (of all scenes) the Basketball Scene where they merge visual presentation and narration to brilliantly showcase a variant on what’s happening
    • Laguna (manages to be endearing, kind hearted, and an idiot without going too far into the realm of caricature which makes him both enjoyable and awesome)
    • The station, Lunar Cry, Rinoa, Ellone scenes in space are just… fantastic
    • The music is better then average about half the time, and really helps add to many scenes
    • The CGI cinematics are surprisingly good, even to this day, and generally do some great things both in terms of camera-work, animation, etc. but also layering them over the activities of the player
    • The ending is touching, heart-warming, and only messes up a few times
    • The main plot is surprisingly tightly crafted, managing a Type 1 Time Travel story with no real plot holes
    • Consistent and creative visual design elements

    Story Negatives:

    • The assassination plot is stupid, the lead up is poorly executed, Quistis is literally character assassinated in the middle of it, and the Scooby Doo logic of them happening to get locked in the room is ridunculous
    • There’s a series of events that feel weirdly disconnected and generally lack any real logic or coherency at the beginning of Disc 2, and the story just kind of flies off the rails for a while there… to the point where the whole time I’m just shaking my head
    • The Basketball Scene. Problem 1: It’s a stupid premise. Problem 2: There’s (almost) no lead up whatsoever. Problem 3: There’s no real follow up or significance going forwards. Problem 4: The timing of the scene is awful in the narrative. Problem 5: The scene actually starts fine and focused on Rinoa and then shifts to this stupid, and Problem 6: It’s a point multiple people have literally quit the game over
    • Seifer is horribly mis-used in this game. While a lot of his characterization makes sense given his childish, fantasy fixation and his opposition to Squall (who is more on the reality side of the theme) the fact is he’s awful in almost every scene he’s in, actively irritating me, and made all the worse because after all the terrible things he does he gets a happy ending
    • Aggregate: The Basketball Scene is so bad it deserves to be mentioned again // The overworld design is frankly awful, with huge gaps of nothing in between what is supposed to be cityscape or civilized country, and no real logical connect between areas // The ridiculousness of finding and being rescued on the Ragnarok is beyond belief, and // the coincidences in the game get a bit much, to the point of actually detracting from the story

    Gameplay Positives:

    • Legitimately good built in gameplay cheat options, with enough variety to avoid simply being overpowered
    • The ability to customize and level your GFs is actually a pretty neat horizontal leveling system, and offers good build options
    • The junction system (that is to say, junctioning magic to stats) is actually a pretty neat idea (minus how it’s implemented) and, again, lets you have a method of power increase that’s completely horizontal
    • Triple Triad is actually quite fun to do, with a good ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ curve and nice interface
    • The music is just phenomenal
    • Good quality of life interface features (Switching, auto equipping junctions based on priority, L and R swapping, inventory sorting, etc.)
    • Ultimecia’s Castle is excellent dungeon design and generally one of my favorite final dungeons in the franchise
    • Consistent usage of visual design elements to indicate connecting points across areas, enemies, etc.
    • A third music plus for an absolutely phenomenal sequence of songs in the Outro; Lunatic Pandora, Compression of Time, The Castle, Legendary Beast, Maybe I’m A Lion, and The Extreme. Great stuff
    • The Outro is actually really good, with an excellent final dungeon (minus the save thing), about half good final bosses, and good lead up and finale along with the excellent visuals and music

    Gameplay Negatives:

    • Unskippable cutscenes
    • Lack of proper information on the level scaling, leading to people leveling and screwing themselves over without knowing or realizing
    • The junction system (that is to say, junctioning magic to stats) is part of the overall magic ‘problem’ where the ammo system and issues with acquisition make the whole thing more annoying than it really should be and, further, de-emphasize magic entirely outside of junctioning
    • The ‘Regional Rules’ aspect and Queen quests for Triple Triad friggin’ suck
    • This game is probably the worst example of walkthroughitis in the franchise; not just having optional content or missable content, but also the base designs of the game are unique and different, allowing multiple progression paths… with no real indication of how or why, more or less mandating a walkthrough or prior knowledge in order to know what and how to do
    • The prison dungeon sucks. Repeating rooms that are awkward to navigate thanks to the circular styling, enemy encounters which just make it worse, and having to repeat the already repeating rooms three times
    • The difficulty curve is… wrong. It’s designed around the idea of either being constantly way behind the curve (and possibly making it worse) or being completely overpowered via breaking the game in half via many different ways
    • Aggregate: The section with finding the White Seed ship suuuucks and there’s no real direction whatsoever on how to get to Esthar immediately after // There are questionable or bad design choices with several of the final bosses (random party choice, deleting spells, mandatory pulsar stat gating) // The fact that you have to unlock Saving in Ultimecia’s castle is just… what?

    Final Fantasy VII Switch

    I’ll admit, this didn’t score as high as I was expecting… but despite that, I absolutely loved replaying it, and the game remains the classic it deserves to be. Just… don’t pick up the Switch port, it has issues.
    Total Story Score: +19
    Total Gameplay Score: +4
    Cheats: Yes (didn’t intend to, but ran into multiple stat/grind walls)
    Total Play Time: 3 Days // 24 Hours
    Time Reviewed: 12-25-2019

    Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

    Story Positives:

    • Good usage of background graphics and visual style of combat and explore arenas to help establish tone and atmosphere
    • The game does a lot to quickly and efficiently establish the stakes and setting early on
    • There’s a good amount of Babylon 5 Effect on display given what we eventually learn in the game
    • There’s surprisingly well done animations for the sprites to help showcase mood and action during scenes
    • The Sector 7 Plate sequence is astonishingly horrifying, especially given the limitation of graphics and the time, and gives me chills to this day
    • The Trail of Blood scene is just fantastic across the board; the lead up, the tension of the open cell door and the corpse, the song which over-rided combat music, the blood, the gashes, all leading to a corpse and a sword
    • Regardless of Sephiroth himself, the way he is presented (build up, direction, animation) is as a horror monster, and it adds wonderfully to his presence
    • The Intro wonderfully sets up setting, characters, themes, plot points, and has good pacing and sequencing and is just a treat
    • Tifa (initial characterization, obvious motherly qualities, initial hesitation and confusion at Kalm, etc.)
    • Barret (a very flawed father figure who is probably the most human of the characters, being scarred by vengeance and a bad past but not letting it get in the way of his life but at the same time being pushed to places he shouldn’t go)
    • Cloud (initial characterization is deliberately inconsistent, and shows him flip flopping between the geek and the ‘cool mercenary’)
    • Aeris (quickly established as being very aggressive and assertive and being more than willing to maneuver the situation to her liking, while not losing her kind qualities)
    • The Kalm flashback sequences is a great sequence; it does good setup for the second time around, establishes Sephiroth and the stakes, and shows good character stuff for Tifa and Cloud
    • The music is really used very well to emphasize scenes and tone in addition to just being great
    • The entire Temple of the Ancients sequence works great in story, mostly with how it utilizes Sephiroth and the reveal of his overall plan
    • The death of Aeris, the build up, the follow through, still hits me to this day
    • The Northern Crater false reveal, and culmination of Cloud’s story up to that point, and Tifa’s fears, and excellent little camera work tidbits, all good stuff
    • The big, real twist that Cloud was real and there all along is just fantastic. Wonderfully built up, wonderfully paid off, and I love it every time I see it
    • A second plus for the big twist scene for the presentation, significance, and feel of it
    • A plus for Yuffie. She’s the glue of the party, clearly cares, has good characterization in her side quests (even if they’re aggravating gameplay wise), and remains a favorite
    • The final confrontation of the mind between Cloud and Sephiroth’s will is a fantastic culmination of Cloud’s story arc, Sephiroth’s presence as the horror villain, and the story as a whole
    • Story-wise the game is exceptionally well paced, with events happening in a wonderful pattern throughout the entire game, and never staying too long on highs or lows
    • Aggregate: While not really worthy of positives by themselves, Cid, Vincent, Red XIII, and Cait Sith are good characters who do good stuff with their limited screen time

    Story Negatives:

    • The Turks. They’re either whitewashed after Midgar (despite being horribly generic villains in Midgar) or written incredibly inconsistently
    • Translation is… really lacking, with some dialogue sections and some entire scenes being basically gibberish
    • The ending really does not work for me; it’s too brief, too little information, and for me it cuts off too early
    • Aggregate: Rufus’ continous need to have yet another means of transportation to ‘keep up’ with the search for Sephiroth is stupid at best // Nibelheim being rebuilt and filled with actors really makes no sense, and it gets worse the more you think about it // The coincidence of the Sister Ray hitting Diamond, and related events, are just kind of ridiculous // The total illogic of the ‘everyone comes back while they’re not looking despite not having the airship’ scene bugs the crap out of me // There’s nothing indicating the optional Zack lore which is both critical and good

    Gameplay Positives:

    • Music!
    • Good quality of life interface features (Experience bar after combat, Limit Break bar, L and R to quickly swap, clear indicators of stat changes on equipment and Materia, etc.)
    • Combat is smooth and well animated, and not only goes by quickly but has good cool factor
    • Motorcycle game is surprisingly fun for a minigame, very smooth and intuitive and actually rewards tactics
    • Shinra Tower is one of the best designed dungeons in the franchise, with so much going for it I’m not even going to try and summarize
    • The Intro is one of the better designed ones in RPG history, with lots to do, good variety, low encounter rates, good progression curves, optional rewards, minigames, and general fun
    • The Materia system is very fun, with a lot of possible combinations and setups you can do, which keeps expanding for most of the game
    • A second positive for how great the Materia system is
    • A third plus for just fantastic, epic, amazing music
    • There are a lot (a lot!) of gameplay decisions designed around increasing both the impact and smoothing the design of Aeris’ death and how she is permanently removed from the party… from Limit Break to equipment distribution to party mandation, to finding equipment after her passing
    • The final boss trio and lead up into the planet core is fantastic
    • Aggregate: Good minigames (Motorcycle racing, submarine, snowboarding, Chocobo racing, Chocobo breeding, Battle Arena, Rollar Coaster)

    Gameplay Negatives:

    • Unskippable Cutscenes
    • Catching chocobos sucks, with too easy to screw up with auto targeting, a large amount of RNG which can lead to grind, and the fact that it’s intended to be mandatory early on is just gleh
    • The console port has a few issues (menuing is borked, with cursor ‘skipping’ options occasionally, and here and there hard-locks requiring rebooting the game, occasional blipping on the music)
    • The Yuffie section has multiple issues with it… the most obvious being the Materia loss, but far more important is you run into the wall of a boss who will absolutely destroy you unless you’re carefully prepped for it, and on top of that the boss is difficult in a section where they know you don’t have Materia
    • The game’s difficulty curve and power progression curve presumes a level of either grind, exploration, or optional content in its design, meaning playing through normally will lead to one running into ‘grind walls’
    • The loot distribution towards the end of the game is frankly awful, with entirely too much great equipment being in the final dungeon, with no New Game + to help mitigate the issue
    • The last dungeon is just lackluster in encounter design, visuals, and layout
    • Aggregate: No memory cursor across battles // Extremely vague instructions on how to find Dyne in Corel Prison, which leads to frustration and sand worms // Inconsistent geometry in the Great Glacier, which combined with the maze nature of it and repeating screens makes getting around a pain

    Final Fantasy IV PC

    While hampered by being a poor port of a poor port of a remake, the core good shines through on this one… far more than I expected, if I’m honest. There’s a reason I recommend people start the FF franchise with this entry, and I stand by those reasons. Hugely recommended.
    Total Story Score: +9
    Total Gameplay Score: +2
    Cheats: No
    Total Play Time: 4 Days // 22 Hours
    Time Reviewed: 12-31-2019

    Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

    Story Positives:

    • Opening is very well crafted, symbolic, shows off and hits the right emotional beats and is well edited and basically awesome… if you’ve already played the game
    • Thought bubbles are a fantastic narrative tool to show what characters are thinking (in contrast or alongside what they’re saying) and it’s so smooth and intuitive
    • A second positive for continued excellence in the usage of the thought bubbles throughout the game
    • The dialogue is frankly excellent, with good nuance and word choice, and of course I love the archaic english
    • Surprisingly good story and gameplay integration throughout the game
    • The encounter at the top of Mt. Ordeals is still an awesome scene and, as usual, great gameplay and story integration
    • Cecil is an excellent character, fully realized in his path from unwitting instigator to repentant victim to triumphant redemption
    • Voice acting is quite good, with its only flaw being its relative infrequency
    • A second plus for continued, excellent usage of gameplay and story integration
    • Tellah’s death is still just as impacting as it’s always been
    • Cid’s ‘death’ scene is absolutely amazing. The voice acting nails it, his line “And so young too!” is just so Cid, and of course Cid (who’s spent his entire life studying flying) finally flies unaided
    • The ending is surprisingly enjoyable even now, with closure and conclusion to all the characters, and it serves as a form of an epilogue after the adventures
    • Aggregate: The ‘death’ scene for Palom and Porom and Cagnazzo’s final revenge // The Intro is good at what it does, but is ultimately too short and unambitious to really justify a full positive // The animations in cutscenes (both in-game and pre-rendered) are surprisingly good for what they’re working with // Similarly the graphics are better than I remembered on the character and enemy models
    • Aggregate: Edward is actually pretty awesome and grows well in his few scenes // Rydia too // Ditto for Yang // Tellah while we’re at it // And the twins!

    Story Negatives:

    • Yang’s death scene is stupid on many levels; First, his death is un-needed. Second, it had no build up and comes out of no where. Third, they have time to drama-it up which deflates the scene. Fourth, they have the door… which they just unlocked… close behind him which, it’s worth noting, also survives the explosion.
    • Cid… survives. And then he has another fakeout death. Sigh
    • Yang survives his death scene, which somehow makes his existing death scene even worse than it already was
    • The ‘oh you should stay behind’ scene is as awful as it always is. It’s pointless to begin with, everyone just kind of goes along with it, and it lasts about 30 seconds before it’s immediately undone
    • Aggregate: …the Opening, while very cool, is really built for older players. For new players it spoils the hell out of several major story beats // There are far too many examples of coincidence to name that are just ehh // Several instances of the story smashing too many unnecessary plot points into one scene at a time // The ‘rescue the team from Babil’ scene is just stupid for every reason (why does the bridge collapsing send them plummeting from hundreds of yards up, they land ON an airship with propellers… with no damage, Cid knows how and where to find them, the general physics issues, etc.) // The fall from the top of Babil because bullcrap trap is bullcrap and padding and awful… it’s there because the GM hadn’t written the rest of the adventure yet so he forces the party to derail

    Gameplay Positives:

    • The auto combat mode is actually quite good, allowing you to select what action (or spell or item) is used each turn, and being able to toggle it on or off at will
    • The Augment system offers some fantastic customization for the characters, allowing both new abilities and cross-class abilities
    • Surprisingly good story and gameplay integration throughout the game
    • The game is quite creative in using the Counter concept to add tactics to bosses and enemies, which by itself isn’t
    • The auto-save is actually really good in this one, saving basically every zone and encounter AND after cutscenes for bosses
    • The boss fights in general are surprisingly fun, especially the big plot ones like the Four Fiends and Golbez
    • No grind necessary because of smooth difficulty and power progression curves
    • The final boss fight is both very fun and appropriately difficult, and nicely epic
    • Aggregate: The HUD has some good information on display // The in game map feature is actually pretty cool, but doesn’t deserve a full positive because A: You have to keep re-summoning the map after combat and B: Occasionally you just can’t find that ONE little spot you’re missing
    • Aggregate: The Scarmiglione sequence is awesome // Substantial effort is made at multiple points to balance things nicely between the characters you’ll have at the dungeons and enemies you’ll be fighting // The bosses hiding gear upgrades and the gear being excellent is a nice touch for the final dungeon

    Gameplay Negatives:

    • Unskippable Cutscenes
    • The encounter rate is, as per usual for the era, just too high
    • The encounter rate is really rather too high
    • Total lack of memory cursor in menu or in combat, as well as losing the map everytime you do anything
    • New Game +… is awful in this game. It only carries forward very little (Augments, map progression, stat up items, and adamant stuff) and you have a permanent cap on how many you can do! (only 3 runs total)
    • The Lodestone Cavern is just a big middle finger to the player. You have to drag your way through with Tellah (low MP) and Yang (low damage output) plus enemies designed to be weak to weapons who hit hard (when you have no armor on)… and on top of that it’s not rewarding or properly designed loot wise to compensate
    • The Sealed Cave is… boring. Really really boring. The encounters take forever because of health, aren’t particularly difficult, there are too many fo them, and it is a massively huge place you have to walk in and out of (or warp out of level at a time)
    • Aggregate: The walk-to-run leftover from the mobile port is a constant irritant // You basically need a walkthrough to really get the best value out of the Augments system, in a way that’s frankly counter intuitive // The Sylph Cave and Feymarch Cave both suck, with the ‘Float not lasting between floors’ thing which is just awful // The final dungeon is ultimately lackluster; too long, too boring until the crystal part, and too many encounters

    Final Fantasy V GBA

    I’ll admit the story didn’t stand out as strongly as I remembered, but there was nothing wrong with it either. This left me with an acceptable story couched in one of the best designed gameplay systems I’ve ever seen. I’ve said for years FFV is amazingly well designed, but even I was surprised by just how well designed it was upon review. Hugely, hugely recommended.
    Total Story Score: +1
    Total Gameplay Score: +19
    Cheats: No
    Total Play Time: 4 Days // 21 Hours
    Time Reviewed: 1-3-2020

    Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

    Story Positives:

    • The game has a surprisingly good approach to comedy and light heartedness which still gets a chuckle out of me to this day
    • Galuf’s death is still a great scene, at least in story, to this day. His refusal to give up, pushing himself entirely past the point of reason, and dying because he simply cannot be healed at that point

    Story Negatives:

    • Aggregate: So… they’re on a mountain, fighting a couple who hunt dragons, who are using Lenna’s father’s helmet as bait, and then a chasm opens up… what? // The portrait mismatching is just distracting // As with 4, the coincidences colliding with each other to make the plot happen are just ridiculous (as with the aforementioned mountain issue)

    Gameplay Positives:

    • Good convenience and quality of life features (quick and easy equipping and equipping of jobs and gear, L and R to select, holding A to push through combat, memory cursor, etc.)
    • The Intro does a lot of general good game design decisions, with lots of (optional) tutorials and introductions into most of the mechanics of the game, as well as a reasonably interesting dungeon and boss
    • Music is, as per Uematsu’s style, great stuff
    • The Job System allows for a huge amount of customization in playstyle and party makeup
    • There’s no real ‘building yourself into a corner’ with the possible Job setups (as best highlighted by the Four Job Fiesta)
    • The Job System allows for tons of possible combinations and possibilities
    • The number of possible combos which are end game viable is astounding
    • The Job System has almost no bad or otherwise more worthless jobs, meaning just about everything has its uses
    • Boss design has so much variety of strategy and proper difficulty, where any given fight just requires rethinking it rather than leveling or luck based
    • Dungeon design is designed around gimmicks and tricks to vary them up, while also not being too short or long
    • Dungeon design remains substantially varied throughout the game
    • Encounter design is design is moved towards enemies being both the right relative power level they need to be for the area they’re at, designed in a way to indicate the types of tactics you can or should be using
    • Encounter design continues to be well crafted throughout
    • Reward distribution of spells, equipment, and items is very well designed from towns, encounters, and dungeons
    • Every World 3 dungeon has worthwhile loot throughout
    • Overworld design is designed to naturally guide you towards your next overall destination while still allowing for exploration and having a map that gives the player ideas of where and how to explore
    • Overworld design of World 3 deserves special mention for continuing the flow of 1 and 2 but merging them in ways that make sense, and lead to new methods of progression (like entering the ruins cave near Jachol to get into Bal’s basement)
    • Multitude of possible strategies on almost every major encounter, most notably bosses (which tend to have at least 3 separate strats you can use… per boss)
    • Bosses throughout the game continue to have good gimmicks and variety, and a multitude of viable strategies for different parties
    • Due to a well designed power progression curve and the aforementioned good difficulty on bosses, the game requires no grind all the way through
    • The Outro is quite good gameplay wise. An excellent last dungeon visually and musically with good and rewarding enemies, loot, fun bosses, and a great and challenging final boss fight
    • Aggregate: The bestiary has some good info, which can especially be useful on repeat playthroughs // The music, while not the best, gets an Aggregate second positive for general quality // There are several good instances of gameplay/story integration

    Gameplay Negatives:

    • Unskippable Cutscenes
    • By the time you hit World 3 the encounter rate is just too high
    • Aggregate: Encounters on the ship discouraging exploration // The encounter rate in the Forest of Moore is just too high // Running is just entirely too RNG, just like it was in previous games // Landing on a precise spot with the airship can get mildly irritating // The menu can lag a bit on the GBA version, requiring the player to be excessively patient with it // The light flickering of buffs can be distracting

    Final Fantasy IX Switch

    While I was disappointed by repeated issues with the Switch port, this is still a fantastic game. The story was actually better on replay than I remembered, and while the gameplay has several issues it was still enjoyable to go through. One of the best Final Fantasies and RPGs in general for a reason.
    Total Story Score: +22
    Total Gameplay Score: +1
    Cheats: Yes (leveling issues with Switch version)
    Total Play Time: 3 Days // 19 Hours
    Time Reviewed: 1-15-2020

    Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

    Story Positives:

    • Doodad placement is just nuts in this game, with tons of detail on every screen
    • The animations for the characters are very expressive and well done and help show a ton of emotion and feeling for the scenes
    • The ATE system is… Excellent at showing Meanwhile Elsewheres, mostly optional, and really used to good effect to help develop characters, background lore, worldbuilding, and occasionally plot
    • The Intro to the game is exceptional, doing a lot to establish characters, world building, initial plot, and begin several threads
    • The Village of Dali is a great story piece. It slowly builds the mystery, pays off with revelations about the construction of Black Mages, and ties it all together (Garnet, Steiner, Vivi, Alexandria, and the Black Mages). It also establishes the real trunk of the story going forwards
    • The Lindblum Effect in this game is real, and so much of it feels so alive and believable as you traverse it
    • The camera has no hesitation about moving direction multiple times through the first half of the game, focusing on different parties who are concurrently adventuring, which not only changes the pacing and tone but helps keep things moving and frankly is a great narrative tool
    • The presentation and delivery of the somber, sad, darker tone of the entire Burmecian section is awesome
    • The entire Cleyra sequence is great. A peaceful people, with time and effort spent trying to develop them and increase the overall player interest (especially since so many Burmecian refugees end up there), who are then all wiped out… which, in addendum, showcases the exact nature and threat of the Eidolons, a recurring element in the whole game
    • Background lore and world building
    • Construction of sequence of events is very tightly woven and logical for the first half of the game
    • The devastation of Lindblum and the follow up to the Atomos attack is great, and really emphasizes how dark the story has gotten at that point
    • The pacing of the first half or 2/3rds of the story is actually quite excellent, never staying in one tone or event style too often or too short
    • Vivi is adorable, and of course has an entire well done existential character arc
    • Steiner grows substantially throughout the game, reaching the point by the time he rejoins the party where he’s allowed more of himself to show and taken the blinders off
    • Garnet is a put upon character who barely deals with the issues she’s thrust upon and struggles through three separate character arcs beautifully
    • The music is very well directed and does a good job of maintaining themes and motifs throughout
    • You Are Not Alone
    • The big confrontation with Garland, Kuja, and Garland and Kuja is just… great stuff and I love it
    • Zidane… is an amazing character. He wields a mask of thief, a womanizer, a helper, but as his core he has no identity whatsoever and throughout the game this peeks out bit by bit, until through the course of the game and his real, actual love for Garnet helps push him to developing into a real person, culminating in his wonderful descent into identity and realization of self in Terra
    • The Skirmish of the Silver Dragons is one of the best ‘allies help the main party’ scenes I’ve seen in gaming
    • Memoria is very well done visually and musically and in showcasing the ideas of memories, memories merging, and the pseudo lifestream, as well as a cool and interesting sequence leading to the finale
    • The ending still has all the right emotional beats, decisively concludes the arcs of most of the characters, and has an actual proper epilogue in addition to being probably my favorite ending in the FFs
    • Kuja… is a bit lacking as a character, but is well positioned as a part of the obstacles to overcome. Portrayed in a similar vein as to Superboy Prime or other such villains, he is so threatening and dangerous precisely because of how much power a child like him has
    • Aggregate:Eiko // Freya // Cid // Beatrix // Cid, all fun and awesome characters, just lacking a bit in screen time

    Story Negatives:

    • Beatrix’s 180 in personality from stereotypical evil henchman to good person is done very badly, at least in this version. She literally goes from normal villainous speak to good guy in the space of three sentences
    • The entire attack on Alexandria doesn’t work for me across the board. Bahamut is super powered and does nothing, the sequence is badly paced and has multiple sections that take too long, it culminates in a MASSIVE detonation which does nothing and hurts no one, and Alexandria is fine afterwards
    • Aggregate: The game weirdly likes to just skip over the consequences and continuity of several major events and plot points // The bizarre contrivance of the Eiko capture in Kuja’s Palace is just… weird, and badly storyboarded // There’s a bit of FFIV Syndrome in general, where they clearly just want to get to the next plot point (good example; Hilda randomly being inside the previously-sealed Gulug Volcano so we can rescue her)

    Gameplay Positives:

    • Good, well designed built-in cheats
    • The ATE system is almost fully optional, and a good built in system to encourage the player to explore more, as well as being entirely in the player’s control
    • The music is the usual Uematsu standard of quality
    • Items to learn things system is actually pretty awesome; it allows you to grow horizontally in power, it allows you to permanently learn abilities, or temporarily if you don’t want to spend the time leveling
    • The spell effects in combat are really just phenomenal in this one, easily some of my favorite spell graphics in the series
    • The overall menu and interface design is good, with the ability to see specifics per item, flip quickly between things, etc.
    • Loot distribution is well designed in a way that both locks your progression while encouraging exploration and side stuff
    • Loot distribution continues to be good the entire game, and also takes into account abilities that can be learned on all available characters at any point in the game
    • Well designed and easily accessible auto-save

    Gameplay Negatives:

    • Unskippable cutscenes
    • Trance (somewhat weak, variable use based on character, random generation while building up, triggers instantly, goes away after combat)
    • Chocobo Hot and Cold can go to hell. It’s RNG (item spawn) on top of RNG (location) on top of RNG (depth). It’s boring. It takes entirely too long. It’s a substantial minigame, and it comes with tons of worthwhile rewards
    • Beatrix’s boss fights literally cheat
    • Several port issues: Encounter rate issues with port (effectively a power progression curve problem, because the encounter rate is SO LOW you basically have to stop to level to keep up) // The sound effects are entirely too loud // The occasional load time taking forever glitch is just bleh
    • Tetra Master is… not fun, but more to the point you HAVE to successfully win two matches in order to progress the game, which makes it unbearable
    • The… slowness of combat just drags after a while
    • Aggregate: Multiple irritating or bad minigames and side quests, such as jump rope, Tetra Master, the hippo racing, Chocobo Hot & Cold, catching frogs, and Cid using the hourglass

    Final Fantasy VI GBA

    I went into this one nervous, I came out fulfilled. While it definitely has its issues (including the fact that there’s no good port or version of it) the fact is this is still an absolutely fantastic game through and through. What surprised me most was how good it was on the gameplay side of things in addition to story. If you haven’t tried it, I recommend it.
    Total Story Score: +28
    Total Gameplay Score: +13
    Cheats: Yes (cheated on last boss because I’m an idiot and screwed up)
    Total Play Time: 3 Days // 22 Hours
    Time Reviewed: 1-17-2020

    Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

    Story Positives:

    • Excellent adapted usage of the character sprites to emulate the equivalent of blocking and directing in cutscenes; effectively good animations
    • There are multiple points of very early foreshadowing that are only really apparent upon second viewing that help set up threads for later on (Edgar, Locke, Terra being the big three, but also Kefka)
    • The music direction is excellent and really adds to the tone and theme of the scenes
    • The Intro (which ends right about the South Figaro Cave) does an excellent job of establishing setting, threat, plot, and characters as well as beginning the first major character arc (Terra’s lack of identity and memory, as well as her fears of being different)
    • The entire Sabin scenario is quite well done and enjoyable, both seriously and from a silly perspective. The jokes still get a chuckle out of me, and the serious moments still matter
    • A special mention for the absolutely incredible scene at the train station with Cyan and his departed family
    • As with FFIX, the narrative has no problem following multiple angles and party members, as well as showing multiple angles on events
    • The Battle for Narshe, the build up to it, the fallout from it, are all great moments and fundamentally alter the status quo and give us our first real snag in the ‘beat the evil empire’ plot
    • The flashback and reminiscing scenes between Sabin and Edgar in Figaro Castle are fantastic (and optional!) and really show where they’ve been vs. where they are now
    • The scenes in Kohlingen with Locke and his past with Rachel are great, but made even better if you bring Celes along who realizes just how badly Locke is really hurting
    • Magicite makes perfect sense in lore and serves as a great reason why the party is able to do what they do and stand up to Gestahl
    • The Zozo sequence in its entirety is good stuff. The nature of the poor people, the good (and short) exposition with Ramuh, the sea-change that is Magicite, the revelation about Celes, and the decision to infiltrate Vector
    • The opera sequence is a great section in general, but also really helps add the beginning of Celes’ character arc
    • The playable Esper World Maduin sequence is really quite fun and helps keep the exposition fresh and mostly optional
    • The game does a pretty good job of showing multiple sides of several things, most notably the Gestahlian Empire (best showcasing during the pre-banquet talks)
    • The doodad placement and usage is fantastic, really helping to sell the tone and feel of areas (most notably in towns, but also in dungeon areas)
    • The plot pacing and logical sequencing in the World of Balance is quite excellent, with most of the game being you essentially helping the villains without knowing it and leading to the release of the Espers, that being a sea change that forces Gestahl to improvise, which leads to the Floating Continent scenario
    • The conclusion scenes of Thamasa with Leo’s death, Kefka finally cutting loose, the forced magiciting of the Espers, all good stuff
    • The big confrontation at the end of the Floating Continent, outside of the one logical hiccup, is great stuff and the showcasing of the ruination of the world is horrifying
    • The Celes’ suicide scene is… really powerful, and still hits me really hard
    • The directing is nothing short of excellent throughout, making astonishingly good use of the limited animations, sprites, palette, and camera in order to somehow craft a cinematic experience
    • The final scene between Rachel and Locke is powerful as hell, and really concludes his character arc wonderfully
    • The World of Ruin in general is, to me, very enjoyable in its structure; guided but freeform. What I like more about it is the heavy character focus
    • Terra and her quest for emotion, understanding who and what she is, the amnesia that never really recovers forcing her to grow into a new person, and finally discovering love in family rather than romance
    • Celes and her lack of identity in the World of Balance, her quest for self, her connection with Locke and how he centers her, and how she experiences despair and hope in the World of Ruin
    • Locke and his constant need to maintain the mask, his secret fear and pain, and slowly recovering from all he’s done
    • Aggregate: Edgar the born leader, who masks his pain with flirting, and is reliably competent throughout // Strago and his earnest care for his granddaughter, as well as his desire to prove himself // Relm and her managing to be childlike without childish, as well as amusing and bouncey without being irritating
    • Cyan goes through hell and back and his arc and coping with loss is a huge theme of the game, and his dream section and his Mt. Zozo section really show how much he’s suffering still
    • Dancing Mad is a master-class in musical storytelling and really showcases all you need to know about Kefka, his path, and how he dies in silence
    • The Outro in general is just fantastic. Great last dungeon (a giant trash pile smashed together), great encounter with Kefka (arguably his best scene), great music…
    • …and an amazing epilogue which showcases the conclusions of everyone’s arcs and characters, and how they’ve changed and grown, finishing up with a great series of credits over artistic airship shots and intertwined with little shots showing that the world has begun the long, hard road to recovery
    • A final personal plus for the most touching theme of a game I’ve ever played; the theme of the connections between people. Friends, family, loved ones, it is united we are who we are

    Story Negatives:

    • Lack of individual party lines for non-mandated party members in cutscenes
    • The time skip in general doesn’t work (Celes in a coma for a year?) and almost the entire game feels like it’s been more like a week than a year, but it becomes actively aggravating with Figaro Castle being stuck underground without air for A YEAR and everyone’s fine
    • Aggregate: The lack of different sprites for flashbacks gets a bit jarring during several scenes (Sabin being a fully muscly dude as a teenager, Terra being full aged while being mind controlled, etc.) // The poisoning of Doma as shown on camera has tons of logical flaws to it and frankly doesn’t make sense // Leo and Cid really are either that bamboozled by Gestahl or are that naive to reality
    • Aggregate: The fact that Celes does absolutely nothing during Kefka and Gestahl’s confrontation is bleh // The fact that Celes is just basically fine after a year comatose and somehow Cid has kept her alive is bleh // Edgar pretending to not be Edgar is just stupid

    Gameplay Positives:

    • Music is good to the point where I can’t think of any song I don’t like within it
    • Spritework on background is excellent, detailed, and wonderfully designed and animated
    • Spritework and animations for the characters and NPCs is great
    • Best convenience features in the franchise (Auto-A, memory across battles, L and R across characters and in menus, spell order preference changing, auto equip preference changing, menu backgrounds and color selection, font color selection, languages, swapping between characters in battle)
    • The menu interface is very good, with lots of info on exact stat changes, what it does, who can equip it, and the tooltip comparison is baked into the equipment menu
    • The NPC design is spot on throughout the whole game, with good direction and allusion regarding what you can do, where to see or encounter events, etc.
    • South Figaro is an excellent example of built-in gameplay tutorialization; It introduces the helpful NPCs concept, loot in non-treasure-chests, how Relics work and access to them, alternate routes through areas, and general base-level shopping and equipment
    • The combat is arguably the second smoothest of the series, with no issues or problems and is just fun (and quick)
    • There is substantial effort put into varying up the tactics and design of all the bosses throughout the game
    • I love the use of the Scenarios to highlight the three major types of gameplay in the game (combat with Edgar, exploration with Sabin, and Telltale with Locke)
    • Magicite is an awesome tool in the game. It allows you to summon (per usual summoning rules for the FFs), it allows you to customize party members via permanent stat changes, and it allows you to learn spells
    • Dungeon variety; there is a good and strong variety to dungeons throughout the game, usually with little gimmicks to vary them (Phantom Forest, Zozo and the climb, the Magitek Research Facility, Phoenix Cave, Gogo’s lair, Umaro’s lair, etc. etc.)
    • Loot distribution is well designed throughout the World of Balance, ensuring that there’s not just decent loot but actually good and varied loot to help continue to progress and add new combos for Relics
    • Magicite distribution is handled very particularly in the World of Balance, to the point where they frontload most of the good espers in order to ensure you have plenty of time to design your mage characters however you want by the time you’ll need them
    • The dungeons continue to be varied in design throughout the World of Ruin
    • The loot distribution is uniquely well designed, with lots and lots of the ‘best’ pieces of gear for different builds and characters spread far and wide across every area of the World of Ruin, from Daryl’s Tomb and onwards
    • Design built around multi party equipment scenario, such that there are multiple versions of the good loot in the World of Ruin
    • Each possible party make-up is feasible, even without magicite
    • Kefka’s Tower is a fun, interesting dungeon with nice puzzles, and I love the multi party setup, as well as how lucrative it is. Great last dungeon

    Gameplay Negatives:

    • Port issues (no matter which version you play it’s got significant issues; in the GBA’s case it’s timing, lag, bad sound effects, and bad music)
    • Unskippable Cutscenes
    • Encounter rates
    • Encounter rates!
    • The Colosseum is just awful. There’s no in game way of knowing what you can get for what, most of the actual bets get you junk or worse items, you always lose the item you wager, and the RNG on what your people do is awful
    • Aggregate: There are just too many characters who’s special abilities are either lacking or poorly designed; Cyan and Bushido basically being worthless, Gau’s Rages being entirely too frustrating to get, Mog’s Dances barely working unless under the right circumstances, Sketch being almost never worth doing, etc. // The timer on the pre-banquet section basically necessitates a walkthrough or knowing what you’re doing // The Ebot’s Rock cave really is entirely too RNG and can take a little or a lot of time depending