Written by Whistler 28th November 2016
There are few video game franchises that I can think of that have left fans continuously divided on the best, the worst and the personal favourites. Usually it's a matter of the original did it better, the sequel(s) refined the formula and improved the gameplay, or later titles are completely alien from their predecessors. But due to the Final Fantasy series’s more standalone nature, fans remain in heated civilized debate and angry nonsensical spouts in regards to their preference of Final Fantasy.
What’s important is that each entry deserves both praise and damnation for various and recurring themes, so here’s Why I Love and Hate Final Fantasy.
Why I Love Final Fantasy I
It’s a true and tried classic, despite reportedly being a rush job you can tell Sakaguchi, Uematsu and the core team of seven gave it their all.
Heavily inspired by the likes of D&D, FF was the first JRPG to allow you to put mix and match your team on a highly customizable level for the time.
The four Warriors of Light had the choice of six classes for varying skills and stats from the traditional weapon wielding Warrior, hard hitting Black Belt, sneaky Thief to the three magic wielders, the White, Black and Red mages.
Why I Hate Final Fantasy I
Dear lord the game is so unbalanced in terms of magic and that’s if the spells even work as advertised. Let’s face it, there probably wasn’t nearly enough time put into QA with bugs aplenty and hell for some reason random encounters are tough as nails but most of the bosses are pitifully easy.
You’ll often find yourself wandering aimlessly leading to the likely frustration from all the random encounters and really there isn’t that much to the storyline (something that later FF’s are highly praised for).
Arguably it’s best to try the remakes for the revised magic system, bugfixes and updates to the visuals.
I feel like FFI is best left to the hardcore fans or kept in a frame for all to see what FF originated from, personally it’s aged too much for me to truly enjoy it.
Why I Love Final Fantasy II
While the remakes of the original gave the characters personalities, FFII was the first to have an actual main cast. Introducing characters with actual character arcs and even having a fourth member who would be swapped out as the story progresses. FFII was the first with a decent plot and such notables as the Chocobos and the first title that Cid made an appearance in.
Despite Square just having recovered from flop after flop, Akitoshi Kawazu and crew would not shy away from drastic innovation. Much like the Zelda franchise back in it’s early days, Final Fantasy’s sequel quickly changes up the formula with a sudden departure from traditional EXP systems, opting for a ‘skill based’ levelling system. The drastic change saw that as a character performed a certain action they would slowly grow more proficient in that area of expertise, a unique system offering a more organic experience compared to just hitting a point threshold.
Why I Hate Final Fantasy II
On paper that is, the system was woefully unbalanced, often resulting in excessive grinding to level up a single stat. Character growth would end up lopsided unless you were really willing to go the extra mile and had a ludicrous amount of spare time. Having a main cast was well received but likewise the depart from being able to form your own team was such a good mechanic to throw away.
This ambitious system could be forgiven, if it didn’t make it so you had to sit there and take damage to increase your max health.
Why I Love Final Fantasy III
Gone is the skill based level system, and the class based mechanic of the original makes a return with the improved Job System. Your army of four all start as Onion Knights/Freelancers and can swap between up to twenty three different ‘classes’ as you progress through the game. These new jobs are gained as you collect the story’s maguffins, the crystals of the elements, or through completing certain side quests. There’s your typical melee based warrior and magic wielding black mage, but here is where the series’ iconic Dragoon, Ninja and Dark Knight among others made their first appearance becoming staples of the franchise.
The game offers a vast amount of challenge as well, where overcoming certain challenges and dungeons absolutely demands you to master each of the jobs at your disposal and feeling all the more rewarding when you do.
Why I Hate Final Fantasy III
However while there is something around fifteen thousand party configurations logically allowing for vast replayability, you’ll often find yourself railroaded into choosing certain combinations.
A prime example is the infamous section where to gain access to a particular town you’ll need to shrink your party thus rendering melee attacks worthless and potentially leaving you woefully unprepared.
This also means grinding, and I mean a lot of grind that is increasingly made more painful thanks to the limited magic use system akin to old school D&D where spells can only be cast a certain amount per ingame day. Should you suddenly need a particular job and not have already sunk sometime into making them proficient then it’s back to running around in circles until they are and some jobs weren’t worth your time at all.
Why I Love Final Fantasy IV
This is where the Active Time Battle system was born that saw enemies able to attack while you choose your actions and certain commands even required a charge up time. More importantly, Final Fantasy IV is when Final Fantasy became synonymous with grand scale epic storytelling.
Our protagonist Cecil goes through a great character arc and ever changing cast of party members keeping things fresh. Once again the job system is replaced with main cast who occupy these roles where one moment you’ll be betrayed, the next you’ll watch as another throws themselves headfirst into death in order to save you. Visuals also saw a notable improvement with the jump to SNES hardware with far more colourful and detailed sprites.
Why I Hate Final Fantasy IV
Epic story? Yes. Cohesive? Arguable.
The constant betrayals, character swapping and deus ex machinas become rather overwhelming. Again the job system is dropped in favour of a main cast, but most of this lacklustre bunch don’t stick around nearly long enough to leave a lasting impression on you.
Those that do are underwhelming or underutilized.
Cecil is pretty much forgiven for all his past transgressions, Rosa is dull and boy did Kain (the badass looking Dragoon) turn out to be an utter disappointment.
Why I Love Final Fantasy V
The Job System seen here is arguably the best in Final Fantasy’s main line numbered series. A lot of it plays similar to III where you gain jobs through saving the iconic crystals and this time you level up job’s alongside a character’s traditional level. While some grinding would be needed to catch up unused jobs, having a separate level meant you weren’t completely boned when you wanted to try new configurations. Unlike III, you could choose your team the way you want to with various configurations being more or less viable. The streamlined multi class mechanic was an awesome addition that allowed you to equip job specific commands when using new jobs. This made for some fantastic variety and replayability as players could experiment and find their own special multiclass combinations to best the forces of darkness with.
It also has Gilgamesh, he’s a pretty cool guy.
Why I Hate Final Fantasy V
The story seen here is arguably the weakest of the retro lineup with a simplistic story about meteors that fails to excite and by golly the cast is just outright dull. The plot feels nowhere near as epic as IV’s and it pulls the sudden out of nowhere “true” antagonist cliche that FFIX gets so much more flack for.
Why I Love Final Fantasy VI
Taking more from IV, FFVI takes storytelling to a whole new level with not one but multiple leading characters and an intricately woven ensemble of multiple plot threads on a grand scale. Each of the main cast are given their own unique personality and abilities while allowing for further customization through equipable items and Magicite. These stones grant party members magic spells, summonable Espers and give notable stat bonuses (likely serving as a progenitor to FFVII and VIII’s Materia and Junction Systems).
Whether Kefka is a great or awful antagonist is always down to personal preference but you can’t argue that seeing the world actually destroyed was a surprise to us all, opening up the game’s second act.
Why I Hate Final Fantasy VI
Which also seems to be where VI starts to overstay it’s welcome, the more open ended World of Ruin leads to rising player frustration as you try to figure out where you should be exploring. Difficulty spikes are everywhere with certain sections feeling overly punishing, and others insultingly easy.
The second part to this story also doesn’t feel as memorable and often feels laden with a fair bit of padding and/or busy work before the epic final battle.
It should be noted however that many of us, mostly in Europe, didn’t actually experience Final Fantasy until we entered the age of 3D polygons with Final Fantasy VII on the Playstation.