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The More Things Change, the Less They Stay the Same May 5, 2008

Filed under: Metagaming — haounomiko @ 6:23 am

So in the middle of playing Final Fantasy X today, Sasarai suddenly observed, “Hey, my characters aren’t gaining levels, are they?” He had expected the sphere grid to be a bonus to his stats, not his only means of raising them, and he expressed surprise that it had departed so far from the standard system of levelling automatically. He was stunned because, he said, in a Final Fantasy game he didn’t expect a radical departure from previous battle systems.

Really? Because I did. I think Final Fantasy is less consistent with its battle system, game-to-game, than most series are. It’s not just that I don’t recall two games ever having quite the same system; it’s that I’ve got it in my head that radical departures from previous games is something that the series just does. Even in the early days it tended to be experimental, and nowadays it feels even more so– it feels like the series has been different this whole decade, with the exception of FFIX, which doesn’t count because the whole game was a deliberate nostalgia trip. I tend to think of it as a series known for tossing some random new system into the mix.

Is it perhaps the particular games we’ve played? Because he’s only previously played IV, VI, VII, and IX, which are reasonably consistent with each other; whereas I’ve played those in addition to I, V, VIII and XI (briefly), most of which had quite different systems, particularly in the realm of levelling and developing one’s character abilities. Even spells’ effects, which Sasarai said he also expects to be consistent, do not strike me as necessarily being so. Haven’t the curative/reviving spells changed somewhat? And that seems to me to be one of the most consistent aspects of the whole enterprise. In the sphere (sorry) of developing skills, I think we can hardly know what the series is going to throw out next.

Of course, it’s hard to speak on the current state of the series while not having played XII or XIII, but up to that point I’ve had a sense that lately the system is more likely than not to change radically. I am not criticising this– experimentation is healthy and fun– although it took me a long time to accept that the series was no longer the same thing I remember from so long ago. Rather, I’m observing that consistency isn’t a feature of the series; compared to the handful of others that come to mind, I think it’s quite the opposite.

In other news, Phoenix Wright: Justice For All has finally revealed a tremendous spoiler: in this game, Edgeworth’s suit is blue.


One Response to “The More Things Change, the Less They Stay the Same”

  1. Karl Says:

    Final Fantasies do change a lot of things, but leveling usually at least exists in one form, aside from in FFII and FFX. I was a bit more used to its absence thanks to SaGa games and Chrono Cross (and certain table-top RPGs), but I still didn’t quite get all the ramifications of a game the lack of levels combined with the lack of equipment bonuses, so I kind of made the “send a fighter off on a non-fighting path in the middle of the game” mistake. (Which was ok eventually, of course.)

    The high-end spells vary a lot more than the lower-end spells, unless I’m horribly misremembering, and I think the most common change for lower-end spells is when you can and can’t select multiple targets. Sometimes Esuna/Heal will fail to cure certain ailments, or certain spells will and won’t make it into a game, but you can generally count on the basic elemental attack / curing magic to work as they always do. (Life 1/Raise is definitely more effective in more recent games, but I think we can all agree that this is a very good change.)

    To me, at least, it makes the most sense to group II-V as the games that are practically set in variations of the same world, VI-IX as games set in unique worlds that are still heavily themed from Final Fantasy standards, and everything later as games set in entirely original worlds with little beyond pleasant references to older games. (With I, of course, being the prototype world constructed very hastily from 1st edition AD&D books.)

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