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Adventures into Final Fantasy III: gaining a new perspective on an old genre

Hey Destructiod! How are you? That's nice, I've been quite well too! It's been a good while since I've posted anything on here, with final year university/work placements and whatnot to deal with, but I've managed to club some free time together (not spent playing videogames) to write down one of my thoughts of recent times, and present it in this handy blog form. (now with footnotes!) So, here's this thing I made about the evolution of the traditional role-playing game, and how it has changed over the years. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope to see you again soon!

You know those times when you’re on and off with a girl for about three years, whose constant presence within your mind is distracting from everything else in your life even though its clear that you should just be a man and finish her properly because you can’t bear to have those lingering eyes over your shoulder anymore? If yes, well, you’re in the minority but good luck with that I suppose. For everyone else, that was just meant to be a nonsense analogy to describe the needlessly prolonged relationship I had with Final Fantasy III.

No, not the other Final Fantasy III. I'm talking about this monster.

This Christmas would have marked quite a momentous occasion: our three-year anniversary living together. That’s not to say things were perfect between us however. She would lie solemn on my shelf of un-played games, only providing the occasional whisper that maybe, one of these days, I should actually go back and finish what I started instead of getting continually distracted by other things. I would choose not to listen, and go back to playing Pokémon. It was a nice thing we had going on, but like everything in this humble life, it had to change at some point. “Three years, that’s a little excessive don’t you think?” she used to moan from high atop my room. The story goes that eventually it got to that point where I’d finally had enough, so a little while ago, I decided that I would finish the job once and for all, not plugging another cartridge into my DS until it was over. Things were said, tears were shed, some feelings may have changed during the time period, but around two weeks after booting up my fourteen-hour save created around the 2006 holiday season, the deed was finally done. I’d gotten through another title in my favourite long running RPG series. Go me.

But after that, I felt different. Like my begrudging hatred for the old game had somehow intertwined with a kind of love, to form a brand new feeling; ambivalent in ways, but not entirely unpleasant. What was this magical force that had swept over me? Could it be: did I actually enjoy this horrible grind of a game?

You're lucky you're so pretty, otherwise I dont know how I'd put up with you. A bit like my girlfriend.

Going through Final Fantasy III was frustrating to say the least, but in a way it was also rather refreshing, as towards the end and upon its conclusion it piqued some interesting thoughts about the role-playing genre, and how it has changed over the decades as new fans and new technology have become available. To begin to explain the effect this game had on me I’ll have to recall a couple of brief experiences with this beast of a game, mainly those aspects which caught me off guard and proceeded to make my hair fall out. However to begin, I feel some details of myself are necessary so you can see exactly what type of person decided to put himself through this difficult campaign.

Three short things: I like my desk tidy, my room clean, and my shelved games done. I’m also quite the fan of triadic structure; the sharpest of all written structures; but that’s a digression this piece doesn’t require. I’ll let you know first that my interest in playing Final Fantasy III was simply to strike a number off a long list, and my compulsion to play may have been due to a want to finish the unfinished. The last RPG in this numeration I managed to get to the end of was number four on the Game Boy Advance, which is debatably the game in which the series dropped its more “traditional” roots and began its larger focus on characters and plotline. I enjoy exposing myself to a lot of different genres, FFIII fitting the “classic role-player” niche – but let it be also known that I dropped Final Fantasy I for good a few years before III was ever announced (again, the GBA compilation re-release) after reaching the final boss and realizing it was far too difficult for me to ever accomplish. (1) It was probably a combination of the attractive visuals, adorable characters and elusive “unreleased outside Japan” status that lulled me back into bothering with this classic format once more.

Seriously. I do barely 1000 damage per turn and it has twenty-times that hit points plus healing magic which will always recover 9999. I only wish my level was as high as the one in that screen grab!

Now with that out of the way, I can begin to discuss my responses to this game’s foreign structure, starting with the format that dungeons take. In short, I hated it. Allow me to describe your typical Final Fantasy III dungeon experience. Upon arriving at the next plot related cavern, you’ll realize that the monsters inside are just powered enough to do a significant amount of damage to your entire party with each battle, and your reward is more often than not a paltry amount of experience and gold. The fact that the MP system only allows you to take a limited number of healing spells inside each one does not help this matter. Finally, after a long while of fighting random battles you will inadvertently enter a boss chamber who will then proceed to kick your arse in six ways from Sunday, easily losing you up to an hours play with the only residual matter being a very bitter taste. Recalling this now reminds me exactly why I left this game on the shelf two times before I dedicated all my efforts into finishing it.

This initial gripe also ties into the second aspect I disliked about Final Fantasy III. The learning curve, in particular, that of the final boss. Now by the time I’d finally reached the games’ closing chapters, I’d gotten used to the dungeon format. Grind to the end, teleport out before the fight, then go back through while powered up. Simple, and by the time I decided to go anywhere near what I knew was the final room, I made sure, especially sure, that I could slaughter all of the beasts leading up to it in a few moves. Climbing was easy, heck, even the first antagonist that could be better described as “the main bad guy” went down within a few turns, barely a scratch to my name. I was confident that I had the game on its last legs, wistfully journeying on to the pillars of darkness where the true endgame lied.

Looking back, I now concede my confidence to be a foolish mistake. What the hell did I know!

One turn, nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine damage across the board, hour lost, dead. That bitterness has once again returned.

A decade and a half ago, this would be the screen that I both fear and loathe. And cry upon an unending, inevitable stream of failure.

Apparently, there were four “optional” bosses it was possible fight before taking on the final challenge (I put optional in quotations because they’re not really optional at all: you have to face all of them in order to power down the final boss’ strongest attack, which otherwise will always hit for 9999. Even a max-out party couldn’t withstand a single blow) and each of them were far more powerful than anything I’d faced beforehand. That was nice of the game to not tell me anything of the sort at all. After checking gamefaq’s, which had become a necessity by this point, I decided to spend a climb the tower once more, beating each of the “optional” monsters, and facing the less powered Cloud of Darkness, with the knowledge that this time I would certainly win.

Four turns, and my team whose unrelenting courage and strife had crushed everything that came beforehand, had become overpowered. Dead. Again.

I goddamn hated this game.

Hated it so much that I had to finish it. So much that I couldn’t keep my thoughts off training up, becoming stronger and finally beating it. This was my Everest. And I couldn't have been happier with it.

This was the first time in recent years that I’ve ever experienced a final fight that could be described as, for lack of a better term, shit-your-pants hard. As a matter of fact, the third time I approached this monstrosity after training at least ten levels higher than our previous encounter, I was literally shaking with each passing turn, in fear of having the holy heck torn out of my person. Then, totally unexpectedly, I won, and was flushed with a great sense of accomplishment. I’d struggled for a long time through a hard battle worth fighting, and I actually came out alive. Most importantly, I had earned this win.

Did you notice anything wrong with those initial gripes with Final Fantasy III? Lets go and take a look at them again shall we. The monsters in this dungeon are too hard: why can’t I just mash A to win every battle? The boss killed me: why couldn’t I beat it first time? I can’t finish the game off: why doesn’t it hold my hand all the way through and treat me like I’ve no idea where I am or what I’m doing. Where’s the challenge?

I remember fighting this guy for three hours straight, in a long, drawn out showdown of life and death. After his era though, final bosses seem to have lost a bit of their edge.

Final Fantasy XII was an excellent game, one of the best in my opinion, but the climactic showdown of that felt like nothing more than hitting the attack button, and occasionally dipping into a vast supply of healing resources. Lost Odyssey’s environmental level cap made sure that no monster was too strong, if you knew the simple steps on how to fight them. I think back to my Gamecube favourites, Tales of Symphonia and Baten Kaitos, whose final bosses were more like foot soldiers, to be crushed underneath the heels of a party that could take the world twice over if they felt the need to. Great games, but none of them will have you touching cloth (2) as the end draws near.

It's not a judgement I'm making, but an observation. Final Fantasy III succeeds in a way that most role-playing games of today have lost. Its very minimalist story is pushed forward by a desire to succeed in the actual game itself: not the other way around. For myself at least, “story comes first” has been the case with most ventures into the genre. Of course, not to say that’s at all a bad thing. I love the current trends in the genre and the sweeping tale’s that they tell. It’s strange to think that those engaging archetypes I’ve come to know and love today were the predecessors of a genre I mainly go into for its beautifully crafted plotlines and sensual experience.

Currently, my time is being spent with Dragon Quest: The Journey of the Cursed King for the PS2. Regardless of being made in the last few years, I was shocked to find the Dragon Quest difficulty remained intact, (3) with every boss fight and every random encounter being a battle for ones life, with the prospect of death at every turn. And guess what. I absolutely adore it.

The role-playing genre has changed a lot over the years, and now, so has this old fan.

Weirdly brilliant, brilliantly weird; I can't get enough of this world. I probably just have something for bright colours.

(1) Strangely, just a few days ago when I decided to plug the cartridge in once more and see what was so difficult, I managed to down the final boss in a single attempt, without seeing his 9999-point healer a single time. I guess I just got lucky. On a mildly related note, I can now have my list include 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 10-2, and 12.

(2) The term, touching cloth, gently refers to the point in which a person needs to use the bathroom so badly that a small amount of poop has protruded from the anus and is “touching the cloth” of the underwear. Apparently it’s a commonly used phrase in Britain, although the first time I heard of it was on the obscure sketch comedy, “That Mitchell and Webb Look.” I would recommend to anyone interested in intelligent witticisms and poo-based humour.

(3) Discovered after a brief fling with the copy of Chapters of the Chosen I picked up quite recently, who now resides on my shelf beside the Pokémon Platinum I just had arrive here. Expect a Dragon Quest written piece similar in tone to this one in around two to three years.
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About Discarded Couch Sandwichone of us since 8:25 PM on 03.17.2009