White Whales: A long and miserable list of Final Fantasy failures


A fantasy too far

For many, the Final Fantasy series is a rich source of cherished memories. Whether it's meeting a doomed flower girl on the neo-futuristic streets of Midgar, suplexing a ghost train, or devoting endless hours to Triple Triad, the seminal role-playing franchise is responsible for some of the most powerful moments in gaming. It's the sort of passion-inciting juggernaut whose fans can spend years clambering for a remake of one of its most dearly held entries, and then be driven into a sobbing rage when confronted with the terrible reality of said remake.

But for me, the Final Fantasy games represent a lifelong odyssey of miserable, heartbreaking failure.

Admission time: I’ve only ever beaten one Final Fantasy game. One. That’s one out of approximately 700 billion sequels, prequels, spin-offs, remakes, and remasters. As an avid fan of JRPGs, my greatest shame is tackling the series numerous times, yet only managing to see the credits roll on Final Fantasy XII. And the only reason I even beat that game was through the Dustia trick, an excruciatingly dull exploit for power leveling that requires you to be a bored teenager with enough free time to waste on killing the same enemy over and over and over again.

This month’s call to share our personal white whales has inspired me to chronicle just why Final Fantasy has vexed me for so long. No other series has sunk me as low as this one. Even the Souls games, with all their instances of controller-smashing frustration, haven’t caused me the kind of long-simmering emotional anguish as the world of chocobos, airships, and over-the-top summoning cutscenes.  

Because above all else, Final Fantasy and I got history. They’re games that have brought me a lot of joy in my lifetime, and ones I’ll always come back to, even if I know they’ll always end in disappointment and despair.

Final Fantasy III, and III
Version played: Final Fantasy OriginsFinal Fantasy III for DS

I’ll briefly touch on the series’ earliest entries, because I didn’t make it very far into any of them, and the only thing I gained from playing them was the realization that my capacity for appreciating retro games has severe limitations.

The updated versions of these classics are genuinely pleasing to look at, with Origins' detailed pixel art and III’s adorable, chibi-esque character models. But no graphical overhaul can mask the fact that these are role-playing games at their most traditional, with all the random encounters, tireless grinding, and cookie cutter, "Warriors of Light save the day!" story lines that entails. They may have built the foundation upon which nearly every Final Fantasy is based, but they didn’t master the mechanics that would be perfected in later entries. II’s eschewing of a traditional experience point system in favor of leveling skills the more you used them confused the ever-loving hell out of my younger self, and pretty much everything about III’s job system is done a million times better in Bravely Default.

These games provide fascinating looks at the history of the series, but beyond that, I couldn’t find much to motivate me to get anywhere near finishing them.

Final Fantasy VI
Version played: Final Fantasy VI Advance 

FFVI is commonly cited as the best Final Fantasy ever, so much so that almost $13,000 went to crowning it as such in the recent Awesome Games Done Quick marathon. It’s got memorable characters, is one of the best looking 16-bit games when certain remasters don’t turn the sprites into MS Paint monstrosities, and is the originator of the ATB system, which still holds up incredibly well to this day.

And yet, despite multiple attempts at immersing myself in this inarguable masterpiece, the furthest I’ve gotten is the point where that jerk octopus splits up your party. That particular ill-fated playthrough was cut tragically short when a Greyhound bus split me up from my Nintendo DS. As if I needed anymore reason to hate that pit of human misery on wheels, I somehow left my system and the FFVI cartridge it contained inside one of those seat pouches on a long, arduous trip home from Pittsburgh. While I ended up buying another DS, the game was a rare find at that point, and I was never able to get my hands on another copy. I tried emulating it on a few occasions after, but my heart just wasn’t in it.

Moral of the story: don’t use Greyhound. Seriously. Ever. They overbook their buses, are never on time, and you might end up losing an expensive electronic device because you’re an irresponsible child.

Final Fantasy VII
Version played:
 Final Fantasy VII for PC (1998 release)

Fuck Hojo. Fuck him and his “This isn’t even my final form!” shenanigans.

Out of all the unfinished games on this list, this one hurts the most. As clichéd as it is to admit, VII is my favorite Final Fantasy. Sure, the story is an ungodly mess, the kind where character growth is achieved through first having the hero mistakenly believe he’s the reject clone grown from the cells of an ancient godlike being, and then realizing he’s... not.  But I’ve been playing the recent re-release on PS4, and I’m struck by how vividly I recall the game’s many iconic moments and gorgeously pre-rendered locations.

From running through the trash-strewn slums of Midgar, to watching Red XIII’s mournful howls bring tears to the eyes of his petrified father, to a romantic fireworks show over Golden Saucer’s glittering gambling paradise – which I was lucky enough to share with Barrett the first time I played – there’s so much about this title that holds a special place in my JRPG-loving heart. 

VII is also just so delightfully weird. After a thrilling opening involving an exploding energy reactor and a daring escape atop a speeding train, the game wastes almost no time in having you bathe in a tub with a bunch of naked buff dudes and seek out a pair of panties sexy enough to allow Cloud to seduce a mob boss.

But man, fucking Hojo.

Role-playing games are massive, time-consuming commitments, so it’s easy to reach a point in a 50-hour campaign that just kind of breaks you. For me, that point was Professor Hojo, Shinra’s resident evil mad scientist, and a boss with three separate infuriating forms that can wreck your party with status ailments if you aren’t properly prepared for the fight. I certainly wasn’t, and therefore watched as my characters were reduced to toxic green glowing lunatics who knocked each other out with their own weapons.

Rather than trying to regroup after my defeat and approach Hojo with a different strategy, I opted instead for the noble act of quitting entirely. I kept telling myself to go back and try and beat him, but couldn’t bring myself to devote another minute to the game. I was exhausted.

Equipped with the re-release's much appreciated fast forward button, I’m hoping to finally conquer VII after all these years, but there’s a significant chance I’ll break down into flashback-induced hysterics the second I witness that greasy-haired nerd cast Bio Gas again.

Final Fantasy VIII
Version played:

For as much as I love video games, the one thing I will readily admit about myself is that I completely suck at them. I don’t have the patience or skill necessary to master all the complex systems at play, instead powering through with a mix of brute force, strategy guides, and dumb luck. Case in point: the above mystifying portrait of staggering stupidity is a screenshot from my original Final Fantasy VIII save file, and I don’t even know where to fucking begin.

As you can see, I've reached Ultimecia Castle, which is the final area of the entire game. Upon crossing its nightmarish threshold, all your party's abilities are sealed and the only way to unlock them is by defeating the castle’s various bosses. And when I say all your abilities, I mean all of them. You can attack with your weapons, but everything else is off the table. Like, you can’t even save your game until you slay a rainbow sphinx or a flying ice demon or a goddamn dragon or whatever. 

So how do I face such an unholy gauntlet with a party that appears to have made it this far through nothing but sheer grit and determination? The third-strongest member of my team is level 36. How the hell does that even happen? I was a pretty smart kid, y'know? Momma didn’t raise no dummy. But apparently she did raise someone who thought having Squall carry everyone on his gunblade-toting back was a sound strategy.

Needless to say, I barely made it through Ultimecia Castle’s first few rooms before giving up. And a few summers ago, when I thought it might be fun to finally beat all my unfinished Final Fantasy games, I took one look at that character screen and my comeback story stopped before it even started.

Final Fantasy IX
Version played:
 Original (emulated on PC)

FFIX is probably the most underrated entry in the series. Having played it for the first time several years ago, I can understand why it’s got such a small but fiercely devoted fan base. There’s a childish quality to its characters and world, and at times it can feel like playing through an elaborate fairy tale, with its bumbling knightevil queensecret princess, and sad sack mage in search of an identity. Personally, I think that mythical quality is what makes the game so special, but it must have been jarring for an audience that was coming off the more mature, massive-sword-wielding melodrama of VII and VIII

Unlike most of my doomed Final Fantasy runs, this one wasn’t stymied by a particular area or enemy, but rather the overwhelming, time-devouring rabbit hole that is Chocobo Hot and Cold. Like all JRPGs, FFIX includes a completely optional sidequest that locks the best items and most powerful weapons behind an utterly inane minigame that demands hours of your life to master. And as I do every time I’m confronted with one of these sidequests, I was too tempted by the carrot at the end of the stick to realize I was in way over my head until it was far too late.

There’s a lot of painstaking minutiae that I’m not going to get into because just thinking about it makes me want to claw out my eyes from boredom, but basically Chocobo Hot and Cold is exactly what it sounds like. On certain spots of the world map, you use your trusty bird to find spots you can dig up to get treasure, and the more treasure you dig up the more points you get, and the more points you get the more you can exchange them for rare items and maps to find even more spots to dig up and it’s all one big, endless cycle of hate.

I was on the third disc by the time I realized just how deep Chocobo Hot and Cold ran, and became so distracted that I ended up losing interest in the game and putting it down for good. No Ultima Weapon is worth that level of tedium.

Final Fantasy X
Version played:

Sin’s fins. That’s as far as I got. Like, I didn’t even make it to the final showdown with the reality-obliterating space whale. I got bounced off the side of an airship by his fucking fins

I actually don’t remember too much about X. I remember liking it a lot, but other than that, I can only recall the big stuff – watching Tidus and Yuna ruin the act of laughing for everyone, being the world’s worst blitzball player, and thinking Auron was the coolest fictional character ever created. I still do. Seriously, look at the guy! Look at how high that collar is! You've got to be a stone cold, badass son of a bitch to pull off a collar that high.

It’s just not high enough to protect him from Sin’s goddamn fins.

Final Fantasy TacticsTactics Advance
Version played:

I love the Tactics series. Or at least, I do in theory. Turn-based strategy is always a blast, and those squat, beady-eyed character models are like catnip for me. I’m a sucker for sprites, and anything with pixels that pretty automatically has my attention.

But the original Tactics was my first introduction to the idea of permadeath in a role-playing game, and finding out a character I worked so hard to build up into a pint-sized murder machine could perish forever terrified me to no end. Even to this day, I tell myself I’m going to play things like XCOM or Fire Emblem the way they’re meant to be played, and allow any characters that die to stay dead. And every time, without fail, I will restart a battle the second a single member of my party gets knocked out. 

The very first time I witnessed one of my fainted characters in Tactics poof into a treasure chest beyond saving, I took the disc straight back to EB Games and returned it.

I made it pretty far into Tactics Advance when I was a little older and had a better grip on the concept of mortality, but I lost interest about three-quarters of the way through when managing the time-sensitive dispatch missions became too much. I want to rain fire from the skies down upon my unsuspecting enemies, I don’t want to play shift supervisor to a bunch of two-dimensional moppets.

Final Fantasy XIV
Version played: 
A Realm Reborn for PC

Of course there’s no “beating” a MMO. They’re designed to last until either they become unprofitable or until the heat death of the universe, whichever comes first. But if there was a way to beat them, I’m pretty sure you’d at least have to make it past the free 30-day trial, which I failed to do in FFXIV. For as much love as the game gets – and deservedly so, as it oozes Final Fantasy charm – the first few hours are an unholy slog of fetch quests. Many have assured me that things improve as you hit the higher levels and the story starts picking up steam, but seeing as how my first impression was falling asleep in the middle of my umpteenth “kill x of y” hunt, I decided not to renew my subscription.

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
Version played: 
Curtain Call

Jesus Christ, I can’t even beat a godforsaken Final Fantasy rhythm game. The songs were really good, too! I could listen to “YRP, Fight! No. 1” for days! What the hell is wrong with me?!

Well no more, I tell you! This is it! This is the year I finally put these JRPG behemoths to bed! Equipped with FFVII and FFX/X-2 HD Remaster on PS4, and the upcoming FFIX for PC to look forward to, there's a strong chance I'll finally take down some of these white whales just in time to start and never finish Final Fantasy XV!

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UsurpMyProse   gamer profile

Aspiring writer and 2010 Penn State Triwizard Champion. Sometimes I make funny lists. more + disclosures



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