Random Encounters: Leah’s Final Fantasy Primer, Part 1

A question that we received via listener mail (LISTENER MAIL!) for our last podcast got me thinking; I’ve been a Square Enix fangirl for a long time, and in particular, I rank the Final Fantasy series among my favorite games of all.  But what does that mean, really?  Looking solely at the numbered installments, which by no means are the only ones to bear the moniker, we’re currently up to XII (although XIII is out there… somewhere…), and laying aside the poorly-received X-2, none of them actually feature the same characters or storylines.  They’re different games, tied together by almost-random jumbles of threads.  Surely, then, some are weaker than others?  Surely some of the design teams got it together a little better, while some, perhaps, missed the mark by a tiny bit?  I think so, certainly.  While the order is obviously going to vary from person to person, I doubt it would be possible to find anyone who has played through each Final Fantasy game and come out with equal regard for each; we’re all bound to have a favorite.    While I wait patiently (okay, okay, not so patiently) for Final Fantasy XIII, then, I present this list, wherein I will share with you my personal rankings of the Final Fantasy games.  Again, I’m only using the numbered installments, from I to XII (using the most recent American numbering, to avoid confusion), and I will be leaving out XI (I did try the MMO, but I hated it, and I don’t think it would fit in here very well) as well as X-2 (which also doesn’t fit, but for different reasons… mainly that I think I’d get death threats for how high it would likely place on my list).  That’s eleven places, then.  Let’s start with the lowest.

11. Final Fantasy III– Don’t wig out on me; American numbering, remember?  This isn’t the one with Terra and Kefka, et al.  This installment wasn’t even released in the States until relatively recently (late 2006), on the DS.  I’m normally a big fan of games with job systems (hence my weird affection for X-2), but for some reason, I just couldn’t get into III.  Maybe it’s because I hadn’t played any of the older games in a while, and was getting used to the style of the console-based titles, or maybe it was just that I don’t have the patience anymore for the grindy-type RPG when it doesn’t come with any sort of associated nostalgia, as is the case for many of the other games on this list.  Progression felt unwieldy and slow, and the storyline was silly even by JRPG standards.  Put those together and what do you get?  A big pile of “meh.”  For me, at least.

10. Final Fantasy II–   You know what’s a pain in the ass?  Searching for FFII images.  I keep getting ones from IV… anyway, this is another one of those early titles that doesn’t rank particularly high up on my list.  Any game that straight up kills you right off the bat is just bound to make me angry (I *hate* the mechanic of battles you’re supposed to lose, even when I know they’re coming).  The characters are better fleshed out by far in this game than in its predecessor, but not enough that I was that thrilled about running them around in little circles to see what happened next.  Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I’ve ever finished this one, even though I know I own at least two versions of it right now (PSP and PS1), and have owned a third (GBA) in the past.  Guess I’ll have to remedy that.  For completion’s sake, you know.

9. Final Fantasy I– I actually liked this one more than either of the other two I’ve listed, which is a bit odd, because I find myself thinking of some of the very things I had issues with as pluses where this game is concerned.  The plot isn’t great, but it’s straightforward: there are four crystals!  Go get ‘em!  The characters are one hundred percent generic, but that’s okay too, because that way you can just sort of mold them into whatever you want.  There aren’t that many jobs to keep up with, but as a job system, it works out pretty well, at least in part because it’s so basic.  I don’t know, maybe I just have a soft spot because of all the time I’ve spent reading 8-bit Theater.  Oh, that crazy Fighter.

8.  Final Fantasy IX– Sigh.  I know a lot of people really like IX.  For anyone who didn’t care for the more science-fictiony turn that VIII took, this was the perfect remedy; the whole thing had a less serious cast to it, and the characters were…. were… look, I can’t do this.  The protagonist is David Bowie with a fucking monkey tail, okay?  I can’t respect that.  While we’re on the subject of annoying characters, I’ve gotta say that I also had a big problem with Quina, the chef-hat-wearing thing with the giant tongue that you pick up along the way.  I’m not much of a fan of blue mages in general (except Quistis, god bless her), but this went beyond that.  I did like Freya, though, so I guess that’s something.  There were some parts of FFIX that I enjoyed, namely the skill progression, which takes place through different pieces of equipment that teach you the skills, and the “Active Time Events”, which are essentially side glimpses into the stories behind the characters.  While I don’t mind if games contain elements of stereotypical JRPGs, though, to me that’s pretty much ALL this one was- one big fat stereotype.  As a side note, though, I think this is the game wherein originated my favorite JRPG minigame, “Is That A Dude?”  Seriously, Kuja.  Damn.

I think that’s where I’ll stop for now; that’s four games down, and seven to go.  Look for the next installment of my list soon, but until then, I’d like to hear where you stand on these games (or any of the other ones you feel should have appeared in this bottom chunk).  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me have it.

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