Final Fantasy, what a series . . . but after playing XII I'm not counting the days until XIII
Now I'm a big fan of the final fantasy series, I've played all of them multiple times (excluding XI which I'm still struggling through but loving every second of) and each of them I love for different reasons. For some it's the epic stories that these games give, each with it's own unique setting and group of characters travelling the world collecting exp skills and fighting whatever evil is normally threatening the planet this time. But after playing them all through a second, third and in the playstation one series fourth fifth and sixth time I begin to realise that the feeling of enjoyment these games give is an all round combination of great things the game is presenting the player. The most important of these been the system of player advancement (Yay he's actually talking about the topic!). These systems in my opinion can really effect how much of a success the game is, I mean yeah there will always be fanboys dying their hair silver wrapping tin foil around 6 stuck together rulers telling people that the reunion is coming no matter how much they change the systems in each game, but for me once you've gotten the story finished your going to need a genuinely fun game to make you replay and sink those hours in to find every GF Aeon Avatar summoned creature.
First of all I will say this, since the majority of people out there are idiots who say "Screw playing old games I'm waiting for teh remakes with da awesome grafix!!!1!!" I have decided to only comment on the most popular of the series and ones with a defined system (since most of the original stick to auto level up where you will gain abilities and stats without much choice). So to kick things off I'm going to talk about the main event so people who get this far can see a picture that will release nostalgic puppy love for their cherished playstation pal I'm going to start with the systems that worked the best, starting with Final Fantasy VII (cue fanboys).
Final Fantasy VII - The best Final Fantasy System
I think it is safe to say that most gamers out there will agree with me that Final Fantasy VII had the best character progression system. It wasn't too easy to require no input and it wasn't too hard to master.
This system for those of you out there who haven't played the game (and must obviously stay at home killing small animals for fun) I will explain how the system worked and why it was good. This system was based on small gems called Materia which are if I remember correctly the result of the planets life force becoming compressed (so like magical coal), these gems would grant the user special abilities strengths and powers if they had them equipped. Equipping them was a simple process, you had a section on your menu called Materia and it worked pretty much like equipping weapons, there was no requirement for Materia apart from having a spare slot in you weapon or armour pieces )different equipment allowing more slots etc), so you just picked the character you wanted to equip the Materia on and slap it into a slot. Now if that wasn't easy enough for you the Materia themselves are colour co-ordinated to let you know what they are going to give you. Greenish colour was magic and normally gave you minus effects to your stats in order to grant you this power and would cost you MP per cast, Red was a summoned creature and basically like magic except you could only cast the summon the same amount of times the level of the Materia was (we'll get onto this next), Yellow was for command abilities these don't cost MP to use and can give extra abilities in battle such as sense which allowed you to see the enemies stats, support materia was blue and these added a bit of genius to the game, support materia could be used with other materia pieces equipped, the most common of these was "all" if your item had a slot that had a kind of joint between two slots it meant that support Materia could be placed in one of the slots to combine it with another materia. For example, equipping "Cure" "All" would make it so that for the level your all materia was when the player cast Cure it would be cast on all of your party members. Lastly there was the beneficial materia that was purple, equipping this gave the player stat boosts such as HP+ materia which gave you a % increase of health, these were great but quite expensive early on in the game but indeeed very worth the Gil.
Now Materia would have been a pretty lame system if the Materia themselves didn't get any better, because you'd just put them on at the start only to chuck them later for the next best thing (Much like Daddy does with all my new mommies), so the brilliant people at Square (Enix now) allowed materia to level up much like the characters of the game. After a battle the player would gain EXP and AP depending on what he just killed, Experience points went to levelling up your characters which when they did so automatically gave them more attack strength health defense etc etc so it was only your customisation with Materia that mattered, now AP went towards Materia that was equipped once they had enough they would become a higher level Materia allowing for either more casts of them in battle, a higher stat benefit or a brand new spell altogether aswell as the old one! This system worked so well, because just when stuff was starting to get harder you'd start pulling out Fire 2 spells and Cure 2 when your health was getting a bit big for your weaker spells. Even better than that, once you fully levelled a piece of Materia it created a new level 1 piece of the same type for you for free! This system was the best in my opinion because not only did it allow customisation of who had what skills and after having the skill long enough let the players strength advance, but it was simple enough to not require hours of planning to make sure you've mapped each character properly in order to get certain abilities at the end of the game. You just happily went through getting stronger finding/buying Materia and giving it to whoever you wanted, letting you have every character setup exactly how you wanted them. Which originally was a welcome change to the Final Fantasy system since it normally relied on setting characters to be certain job classes to work together properly, White mage for healing, Black mage for damage and Warrior to melee etc. So because of this ease of play and versatility of customisation Final Fantasy VII had the best system.
But now since it is hard to rate all of the systems in order I'm going to jump straight to the worse system and then afterwards sort out the leftovers and explain why they missed being either.
Final Fantasy XII - The worse Final Fantasy System
Now first of all let me state this, Final Fantasy XII was a good game and I'm sure I'm going to get attacked by the masses by saying it was bad but I just found that the license board was a bad idea and drastically lowered my experience of the game(and that's before I just set Gambits on and watched myself do nothing -_-).
When I first played the American release of the game (Been a British resident myself and waiting an extra year to play our version) I was so high on the intro and finally getting a new FF that I didn't mind the system, it seemed a nice change seeming almost similar to the FFVII idea of customise each character how you want and just level up through the game. But after a few hours, enemies seemed to get harder and I seemed to still lack most of my party members having cure or protect on them. So i decided I'd go back and grind a bit since the license points on this game which are required to better yourself can be farmed off the first monsters you come in contact with you just won't really level up off them. It was here that I took a deeper look into the license board mechanic and began to evaluate it in my head (as I tend to do with a lot of games I play), when I realised that this was a completely stupid system. Reasons? You want reasons? I'd better explain first how the system works, as in the picture above you have a grid with some pictures on it, these are your licenses these are required to gain abilities, summons, equip certain items and be able to cast certain magic. So like in the older final fantasy games you would buy magic from a shop and then be able to use it with characters who had learnt it. You gained points for everything you killed seperate to your EXP which were similar to AP but these were LP, these enabled you to buy licenses off the board, which in turn would unlock the surrounding licenses around them. So step by step you would progress through this grid finding and buying the licenses. Thats pretty much it, Ok then, lets create a list so we can get through this one:
The first thing players will realise is, unless you buy a guide book there is no way to know what the hell you are aiming for since as I said you unlock them after buying the ones you could already see, so until you've unlocked them you only get a rough bit of text description at the top of the screen telling you what type it is(equipment, ability etc).
The actual locations of the licenses didn't make much sense from the beginning, in my own experience I was trying to gain the points to allow Basch to use a Katana because that would have been sweet looking, but as I spent up all my LP moving around the equipment section I could not find it, when I shelled out for a guide I found it next to guns and daggers, these weapons have no similarity! Why on earth if they were going to have a guessing game system would they put them in these orders!?
I never actually understood why you had to buy licenses for the exact item you wanted to equip, I mean if it was a training idea that would have been fine by me. Learn how to use a sword and shield, boom! Done and done, let's go buy some magic. But why on earth everytime I find a weapon do I need to waste my points on been able to use it!?! If it's still a sword I can't see why he would forget "oh you swing it AT the enemies"
Now this was the thing that after the other listed problems clinched the deal for me, everyone could equip and use every spell if you got them enough points, the strongest weapons in the game were basically like 2 handed weapons, so if you have a guide or fall onto the right direction by luck. Buy the weapons and get everyone using a polearm for example, your done. Screw magic, get cure spells learnt and if you want to really go for it berserk since you'll be unbeatable then and that's it. Back in other games everyone has always had their own particular weapon style, but in this there was no jobs, no weapons just your preferance. Sure people will praise it for this, but not me. I liked Balthier using a gun, because he was so cool. But when I had to give him something else just to keep the damage up he just didn't look right!
Basically that is it, the system was bad in my opinion. If you grinded enough (which was boring due to the fighting system that require no real input unless you wanted to just run around and click) then the not seeing a path on the board wasn't too much of a problem, but overall it didn't make much sense to me at all why they would do this. The story was excellent but because of the fighting system and advancement system it made finishing this game a real struggle for me. That been said, my actual favourite FF game was FF VIII which I'm going to go onto next, because even though it is once again a make each character what you want system it's the runner up for bad system ideas and has put many people off the idea of playing FF VIII which is a total shame.
Final Fantasy VIII - Almost but not quite
Doesn't look too complicated does it? Almost reminds you of VII yeah? Well take a look at this:
Still think junctioning is cool? But seriously, I actually loved this system apart from one major flaw I'm going to dive straight into. You used magic as items . . . . no wait come back, its not that bad! Basically junctioning worked by assigning a GF (Guardian Force) to a character which you have unlocked and then setting what magic your player has to certain stats and abilities the GF allows you to use. For example, Ifrit amongst other stats will allow you to set magic to the Strength stat allowing you to do more melee damage depending on what spell you set to it and how much of that spell you have (100 been the most). Now that doesn't sound too bad at first, but how do you get the magic I hear you ask. Well, you draw it with an ability called draw. This can be used on special draw points that are scattered around locations and allow you to take what magic they have once in a while or take it from enemies in battle. It can also be harvested from certain items, but that comes later with a GF ability so we'll keep it simple.
Say you've equipped a GF to each of your three characters and given them all the draw command (you had to choose out of which commands you had which 5 they could use, unlike the limitless FFVII) and you get into battle with a red dragon. Now straight away you think, I'm pretty low on fire spells and could use som strong ones to add to my Str. So you get everyone to select draw on it and low and behold it has "fira" "Scan" and "Fire" on it, so you get them all to stock up on fira magic. Now drawing allows you to stock magic from enemies by giving you a random amount, normally between 1 and 9 per draw. So getting 100 can take absolutely ages. Once you've got them though your fine to junction away your stats with your best magic for the job. The problem arises that if you were to use any of the magic you have junctioned (indicated when in battle with a little square next to its name) you stat would lose some of it's benefit. So the game kind of pushes you into the direction of not using magic. Which I find more and more in the "make your own character" final fantasy systems that they try and push you towards just been melee machines and only really using magic to heal and buff. But that's just my opinion, generally I'd prefer to see every Final Fantasy VIII character melee because they have some cool weapons and only really one or two look like they wouldn't hit very hard.
Now the problem I find people have with junctioning is quite simple, there not going to spend all their time in the game just drawing and not attacking. So their range of magic will be quite small and won't be of large quantities. The system allows you to have magic placed onto things like your elemental attack and defense which I thought was a great idea, because as it shows in one of the tutorials, putting sleep magic onto your attack can cause the enemies to go to sleep etc. The problem here been if your not going to switch it for different fights you can get stuck healing a monster with the same element as your attack. Generally though if you can get the magic the system is easy, it comes with an "auto" feature which is a great add on for those who just want to play. You choose either Attack Defense or Health for this, and it sets up your strongest beneficial magic to that stat and works down. So for most you can easily be doing 9000+ damage quite early on. Again it plays like FFVII and XII where you gain EXP just to level up and then this time AP which levels up your GFs, these have their own individual system where yo select what ability you want them to learn next. Simple stuff like the ability to junction magic to Str and then great abilities like refining magic from items. This helps the system a lot I find, because if you take an hour or two to get through the learning curve you can customize your characters easily and effectively without wasting much time. It's not quite as simple as Materia but it's not stupid like the license board so I think this system is as good as it is bad to be honest.
Since this blog is kind of going on forever I think I'm going to end it now with FF X since I was originally going to do IX as well but that generally isn't a very different system. It's job based, works great and is really simple so it would be a close runner up for VII if not for the lack of customisation.
Final Fantasy X - The second best system
Now this was a good final fantasy system, X generally has been rated one of the best Final Fantasy games. Like 6 was king of the snes and 7/9 were joint rulers of the playstation 1 FF 10 definately dominated the PS2 scene. I think with this system, the battle system story and overall look and feel of the game definately helped with it. To some this is what the license board tried to learn from, but in reality this was the better of the two.
Final Fantasy X went back to it's routes like 9 had done, and had each character a set job class. Each job was better at their own thing, white magic, black magic, ranged attacks etc. and each of these had their own place on the sphere grid. This was a large grid filled with empty nodes that certain sphere items could be entered into. I haven't played X in ages now so forgive me if I'm wrong but I think you gained points to put spheres into your grid everytime you levelled up rather than points for levelling and points for just the sphere grid. But I'll have to check during my next play through :P Either way it worked to the fact that abilities, stats and magic were available through the sphere grid. Each requiring a seperate sphere item that you had obtained. Some better than others, like for a stat node if you had a +2 Str sphere you could put that in and gain 2 more to your strength but there were rarer spheres out there going all the way to +5. If i remember correctly there were special spheres that let you clear all your nodes so you could replace them all with higher level stat+ spheres maxing out your stats.
For me this system worked because it let you choose your path through the grid and let you look ahead for what was coming and where it would lead. You could use points to backtrack through your trail as well so you didn't have to just keep pushing on if you ended up somewhere you hadn't forseen. Now what some people did that I quite liked to see people do was send the White Mage down the black mages path and get some damaging spells in her arsenal for a change. This kind of choice you could make really opened up the system to me. Originally on my first play through I didn't see the point in it, because I just followed each characters set path, so I just had to click for a while then continue. But on recent playthroghs I try more and more to aid myself beat the hardest side monsters (Dark Aeons etc). All in all this system worked great and the only reason I rate it second to VII is because the fact that the rarer items you have making you stronger is a nice touch but at the same time, a bit annoying. I'd prefer to just have it automatically done or just let me choose the path for set bonuses rather than only been able to go certain places if I had the right sphere item. But then things would be too easy so at the same time I see why they did it I just think it lets it down a little.
My detail on X was lacking a but this blog soon turned into a monologue so don't chastise me too badly it's my first blog >.< Looking forward to comments though on what your favourite systems were and why! Even disagreeing posts would be nice to see :P Next time I'll keep it short and simple, I just wanted to let people know that I think XII greatly dampened the series for me and from what I've seen of XIII it looks great but dear god I'm hoping its job based or at least has a simple system that doesn't involve a damn grid lol