Saturday, 10 May 2014

Final Fantasy - North America, spin-offs, remakes and miscellany

Few can argue that Final Fantasy is the most famous RPG series of all time.

However, this claim only reeked of accuracy when Final Fantasy VII broke Europe and became a phenomenon in 1997.

By the time asses were leisurely revved to release the original hexalogy on a variety of popular platforms, we’d already worn out several pairs of 3D slippers.

For the sake of sanity, in-depth analysis has been sensibly declined, so you might call this parsimonious indoctrination.

Can you taste it?  Well if not, I suggest you scroll on.

North America

For reference, please observe their original Japanese release.

Final Fantasy (1987) *
Final Fantasy II (1988) *
Final Fantasy III (1990) *
Final Fantasy IV (1991) **
Final Fantasy V (1992) **
Final Fantasy VI (1994) **

* - Famicom only
** – Super Famicom only

To spoil things, the original was remade for the MSX2 in 1989 and was also the only entry to boast a North American NES release in 1990.

Apart from introducing ATB, Final Fantasy II gave the experience system its marching orders as weapons and abilities are beefed up on usage.

Although the concept was revolutionary, random battles practically became a necessity.

Originally appearing in 1994, Legend of the Crystals served inconveniently as a sequel to Final Fantasy V but instead of pixels, was split into four episodes of OVA (original video animation).

Simple pimples so far, right?

Well yes, but I fear a fly is about to enter our Super Nintendo ointment.

Final Fantasy II was released in 1991 but to avoid confusing North America, we were playing Final Fantasy IV.

Similarly, Final Fantasy III appeared in the same territory in 1994 but was really Final Fantasy VI.

The reality is that the first, second, third and fifth game never appeared on the SNES, not in any shape, fashion or form.

If only they‘d showed balls and just called them Final Fantasy IV and VI, then at least nobody could accuse them of misleading the shit out of people.

Equally, the whispers of ‘what the fuck happened to the others’ would be unavoidable so it’s one of those ‘lose lose’ situations.

Ignoring updates and compilations, Darkstalkers (Vampire Savior in Japan) succeeded in annoying rather than confusing PS1 and more so, Saturn owners.

Darkstalkers and Darkstalkers’ Revenge were released for PS1 and Saturn respectively but while Darkstalkers 3 enjoyed an international stab on PS1, it stayed in Japan for Sega’s machine which (unlike the sequel), a 4MB RAM cart to assist with animation and load times wasn't a necessity.

RAM carts weren't uncommon for high-end 2D sprite mayhem as Neo Geo ports of Metal Slug and King of Fighters demanded extra memory.

Whatever they say, it suggests that Capcom knew the PS1 didn't possess enough tools and the third was ultimately a technically less impressive game.

Despite a ton of animation missing, it held up well.

Spin-offs

The Final Fantasy Legend on Game Boy in 1989 kicked off the successful SaGa brand.

Even if you've never played it, Romancing SaGa on Super Famicom should at least ring the loudest of bells.

Curiously, this wasn't even a Final Fantasy game so what the sprite?

When released outside of Japan in 1990, it was translated and rebranded to cash in on Final Fantasy’s ongoing popularity.

Lucio Fulci’s 1979 undead classic Zombie, aka Zombie Flesh Eaters, was also subject to identical tactics.

When Romero’s Dawn of the Dead ate pasta and went shopping in Italy, it was known as Zombi so Fulci’s standalone film became Zombi 2 in the hope to reap similar success.

32 bit boots were filled on PS1 but as the original SaGa Frontier selfishly wasn't our PAL, most and many jumped straight through sequel hoops.

In 1991, Final Fantasy Adventure (again unique to Game Boy), was the first actual spin-off and gave birth to the Mana series.

The PAL version was called Mystic Quest so in retrospect, doesn't mean fucking anything to man or beast.

3P simultaneous monster Secret of Mana was strictly sublime on SNES.

A year later, we span out of control with an exclusive and direct spin-off on Nintendo’s 16 bits.

In other words, it wasn't responsible for the creation of another series.

On a global scale:

Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest (North America)
Final Fantasy USA: Mystic Quest (Japan)
Mystic Quest Legend (Europe)

Japan and Europe didn't see the light of day until 1993.

Marketed as a ‘beginners’ RPG, exploration, bosses and regular monsters were still trademark and for the truly lazy, you could even have the CPU control your ally.

The Japanese name makes relative sense but once again, why did they remove ‘Final Fantasy’ for the European contingent?

Arrrrggghhhhh!

Remakes

Although a right royal pain in the corpulent behind, it was possible to own the first six games on multiple formats and/or device.

Unlike the SNES, this is a WYSIWYG situation.

Final Fantasy

The formula remained identical, but Bandai’s Wonderswan Colour boasted new scenarios and cut scenes in year 2000.

Like the Neo Geo Pocket, there was an earlier b/w system.

What do Nokia’s N-Gage and Tiger’s Game.Com have in common?

They both flopped quicker than a Viagra shy pensioner.

Bandai itself combined a good few years ago with Namco to become, er, Bandai Namco.

Rightly or wrongly and because I’m old school, I still call them Namco.

Am I alone?  Probably not.

Many years later, the PSP was host to an update in 2008 with redrawn graphics and improved sound.  Almost inevitably, we could delve inside an art gallery, be treated with fabulous CGI and explore new dungeons.

Final Fantasy II

Following on from the above, Bandai’s modestly colourful machine exploited matters in 2001 and the PSP equivalent came shortly after the updated original.

Final Fantasy III

Seventeen years later, Europe could finally taste the third outing on DS.

New side quests, touch screen interaction and a graphical overhaul complete enhancements not worth waiting for.

Just to make things more ridiculous, the PSP became host in 2011/2012 but was only available on Japanese import.

The meat of which looks to be based on the DS remake.

Final Fantasy IV

The final instalment for Wonderswan appeared in 2002.

Up next was the Game Boy Advance in 2006 which had new side quests, overworld and underworld areas.

The 2008 DS version wasn't just a port, but a turbocharged remake as 3D graphics kicked more ass than the CGI contained.  It also made the effort to include voiced cut scenes.

That’s the way to do it.

Capcom may have magnificently reimagined Resident Evil on Gamecube but it remains a cardinal sin that the same courtesy wasn't extended to Resident Evil 2 and Dreamcast powerhouse Veronica.

Getting straight ports of Nemesis and cut-scene extended Veronica X was a boring consolation, especially since the latter was already ancient on PS2.

Picking up my dummy in frustration…

Final Fantasy V

The Game Boy Advance benefited in 2007 with Android achieving the same principle in 2013.

Final Fantasy VI

This was remade to a certain extent for PS1 in 1999 with exclusive CGI.

To prep PS2 owners for a potentially exciting 3D playing field, the demo disc of Final Fantasy X couldn't fail to disappoint.

The Game Boy Advance and Android created a similar experience in 2007 and 2014 respectively.

Compilations

Final Fantasy Anthology (NTSC) made its way to PS1 in 1999.

Why not PAL?  Hmmm.

This contained Final Fantasy V (never previously released in North America), and VI, boasting CGI, improved graphics and an exclusive music CD.

Get ready to be baffled.

In 2001, Final Fantasy Chronicles was made unique for the NTSC PS1 market.

We got Final Fantasy IV from the as yet unmentioned European Anthology and SNES classic Chrono Trigger.

Yeah that’s right - Chrono Trigger.

Discarding wholly unnecessary animated cut scenes, the core still accompanied wine better than cheese.

It’s crazier than a shithouse rat that such a sprinkling of genius from 1995 wasn't standalone until 2009 on DS and perversely, is probably what most have played.

Anyway, why are they fucking with our minds?

It would be like if Konami released Ultimate Contra, consisting of Contra III: The Alien Wars and Tiny Toons Adventures: Buster Busts Loose!

Brought for PSN and Xbox Live in 2010, Final Fight Double Impact suggests a pick and choose double hit combo from those available.

We did get the original Final Fight but the decision to include Magic Sword dumbfounded.

Ha ha ha!  It’s fabulous.

Final Fantasy Anthology: European Edition came to PS1 in 2002.

This banquet dished out IV and V so marked a milestone PAL debut for V.

Holy shit.  Was it really necessary to release two slightly different anthologies, for two different regions, on the SAME bastard system?

Let me think. FUCK NO!

Comprising of I and II, Final Fantasy Origins entertained PS1 owners in 2003.

We got some nice art cards and the expected coat of new graphics and CGI paint.

Appearing on Game Boy Advance in 2004, Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls did exactly what is presumed on the tin.

To dangle a practically pointless carrot, II included an unlockable new story once the normal game was completed.

Why not for the first game? I guess they couldn't be bothered.

After a considerable hiatus and to coincide with 20th anniversary, Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection exploded onto PSP in 2011.

Shenanigans from IV, and its sequel The After Years were fused together for the first time, with all-new scenario Interlude bridging the gap between the two.

Enhanced visuals is a given but Gallery brought sumptuous CG sequences and a variety of stylish illustrations.

Forget Interlude, when the fuck did The After Years come about?

Well it was a 2008 Japanese only mobile game.

Sure it’s eccentric to release a sequel for something 17 years young, but at least cancels out the suggestion of any interquel or prequel bullshit.

Like 2010 mobile effort Dimensions, the adventure took an episodic route as completing a tale paved the way for another.

To reward progress, new chars are introduced and a total of ten chapters await the brave.

Appropriately, the same side-on battle approach of IV is taken.

Building upon seventh heaven

The PSP took the plunge with prequel Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII in 2009.

Set seven years before, the emergence of and how Shinra Corporation came to power is the integral part of its overall flavour.

Things don’t go so swimmingly for Soldier Unit member Zack, who is deployed by Shinra to investigate the chaos involving missing associates.

What makes this sauce taste slightly different is opting for mission-based mayhem.

Apart from meeting Sephiroth and other chars we know so well, the gimmick of D.M.W (Digital Mind Wave) goes some way to improve the intense hum of real-time battle.

Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII was another spin-off and starred Vincent Valentine.

This PS2 exclusive was staged after VII and second 2006 CG film Advent Children.

Owners of non-interactive animation will know Advent Children had a cool featurette that recapped the Final Fantasy story so far.

The first CG laden effort, The Spirits Within was completely standalone in terms of story and chars.  

Do yer’ know what? Spin-offs can kiss my ripe ass…

Ehrgeiz: God Bless the Ring boldly guzzled from the poisoned chalice of one on one 3D fighting, as Cloud and Sephiroth et al settled up arcade scores in 1998.

The PS1 was the only system to wave its console wand in 1999.

Thankfully, it was far better than Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi - a brilliant descent into putrescence.

Let’s face it, how the fuck could it not?

How the other half lived

Also for PS1, Chocobo Racing was one of the many Mario Kart clones.

Flapping its wings further, Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales on DS saw our feathered friend leave the ranch and set about rescuing his chums who have been sealed in pages of a picture book by Darkmaster Bebuzzu.

Participating in so-called pop-up duels, card battles and Wario Ware style micro games, it made for something worth touching up.

Before moving to DS and Wii, Crystal Chronicles began on Gamecube and allowed up to four players to take part.

Using a GBA link cable, player data could be managed with consummate ease.

To get the most out of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures, the need to purchase four GBA systems and four link cables was practically forced upon the consumer.

For whatever reason, Nintendo had a huge problem with us using actual controllers.

The Game Boy version of SNES classic A Link to the Past included an interpretation of Four Swords as a multi-player bonus, but I'm sure the snag of requiring a cart per player put many off.

Did many really go through with financial bankruptcy in order to play Four Swords ‘properly’? 

I remain sceptical.

Come on, Nintendo did us up like several angry kippers.

Amalgamating 3D fighting, EX gauge and elements of RPG, Dissidia Final Fantasy and prequel Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy were released on PSP in 2002 and 2011 respectively.

Many chars (past and the then present) were selectable to be involved in a right old palaver.

The prequel’s main addition was a new scenario based story mode.

Taking place a year after XII, DS entry Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings made for a succulent touch-screen romp.

Much like The Spirits Within, 2010 DS entry Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light was related to nothing apart from name.

Instead of CG heavy sequences and/or polygonal overkill, picture book visuals injected freshness into a franchise well past its sell by date.

Menu, information and main game screen are separated without suffocation that serve up several slices of juicy entertainment.

Music can enthral or appal but in the case of Square’s omnipotent franchise, it generally provides an onslaught of unearthly charm and wonderment.

Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy and its ‘sequel’, Distant Worlds II: More Music from Final Fantasy should interest as the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra unleashes a plethora of aural excitement with their own audacious interpretations of Nobuo Uematsu’s incredible compositions.

The influence of pixels largely pollutes the big screen but in regards to capturing environment and atmosphere, I've always said Silent Hill is probably the best example.

Resident Evil is a guilty pleasure, DOA, Street Fighter and The King of Fighters were humorously awful but what about Uwe Boll’s Alone in the Dark?

Err, yeah.

However, that was genius compared to…The House of the Dead.

Please read the words that I write, wasting 90 minutes or so on that FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT will ruin your life.

It’s quite amazing that both atrocities excreted sequels.

What will become of The Last of Us?

A budget of millions will be powerless to prevent an absolute train wreck.

My gut feeling is Gerard Butler (Joel) and Chloe Grace Moretz (Ellie) will fight the mutated strain of Cordyceps.

The final game to chew over, or more appropriately, tap over is 3DS effort Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy.

In the style of Rhythm Heaven, Elite Beat Agents or even PS2 obscurity Gitaroo Man, it’s basically a musical celebration to commemorate 25 years of levelling up, random battles, chatting shit, quirky chars and aimless wandering.

Nostalgic bleeps or fantastic cheeps are seamlessly integrated with the chime of success.

As per usual, your focus gradually shifts from background to solely concentrate on the bombardment of directional symbol.

Magic can be used and chars do level up so the RPG element is virtually but not completely binned.

Very briefly, three modes of play exist.

Field Music Sequence (FMS) – critical hits and a faultless chain.
Battle Music Sequence (BMS) – a party of up to four chibi types must rhythmically fight numerous monsters.
Event Music Sequence (EMS) – a solitary situation set against CG cinema from a specific game.

This smelt initially rotten but persevering escalates beyond a cheap gimmick and generates the aura of satisfying addiction.

Summoning up

I could delve deeper with Tactics and ‘subscription required’ but the buck stops here.

Personally, I fell out of love with the series ever since it made the transition to HD.

Final Fantasy was great in its heyday but after VII climbed the highest peak, personality disappeared like water down a plughole.

Lightning Returns and A Realm Reborn may have run their PS3 relay, but the upcoming XV ensures the baton has already been passed to PS4/Xbox One.

The only way this greedy cow will ever have its udders milked dry is for Gil to be withdrawn as legal tender.

Yeah, don't hold your breath.

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