Archive for December, 2007

Final Fantasy V: Backstories

Progress is still slow. I’ve managed to swap one unpursuable quest for a different, equally unpursuable quest: apparently the last crystal is in orbit or something, and to reach it, I need some adamantine to upgrade my airship. This is the first mention of adamantine I’ve seen. I really hope I break out of this rut soon. I don’t recall anything like this happening in any of the other Final Fantasy games.

In the meantime, let’s take a look at what I’ve learned about the player characters.

First in line is Bartz. That isn’t actually his name in the version I’m playing; unique among the characters, the game lets the player name him, without even suggesting a default. He’s clearly intended as the viewpoint character, and is the only character you control from the very beginning. He’s also something of a prototype for later Final Fantasy heroes like Cloud in FF7: a laconic loner who’s reluctant at first to get involved. I’ll have more to say about him after I’ve described the others.

Second, there’s Princess Reina, whose chief attribute in the plot is that she’s a celebrity. Whenever we arrive at a castle, people recognize her and tell her what an honor it is and so forth, and suddenly it’s her story and the rest of the party is merely her entourage. She’s looking for her father, the king of Tycoon, who vanished shortly before the destruction of the first crystal. I’ve caught a few glimpses of what appears to be the king, always a step ahead, like the G-Man in Half-Life. Reina insists that these glimpses means he’s still alive, although, on the basis of his behavior, I’d say he’s either appearing as a ghost in order to guide us as best he can, or he’s trying to keep ahead of and avoid us because he’s turned into a minion of evil.

Counterpoint to Reina is the pirate captain Faris, whose ship the party attempts to steal early in the game. When this attempt fails and the pirates take you prisoner, Faris decides to hold Reina for ransom. In a surprising twist, Faris is then revealed to be a woman. That is to say, it isn’t surprising that she’s a woman, it’s surprising that this is supposed to be a revelation. She has long pink hair, for crying out loud. The first time I saw an NPC refer to her with a masculine pronoun, I thought he must be talking about someone else. Anyway, not only is she a she, it turns out she’s Reina’s long-lost sister, and a princess in her own right. Both Faris and Reina basically react to this news with “OMG Squeee!” So Faris abandons the ransom plot and joins Reina’s search. Her story arc seems to be mainly about coming to terms with her new station in life. But it should be noted that Faris’ crew displays the same kind of devotion to her as Reina’s people do to Reina. Blood will out?

Next up is an old guy named Galuf, who starts the game with amnesia. At that point, he knows that he’s obliged to protect the crystals, but doesn’t know why, or where he comes from. Well, by now I’ve reached the point where his memory comes back — memories of his granddaughter, his membership in the secret order that placed the crystals in the first place (is he even older than he looks?), and his freaking extraterrestrial origins. The real purpose of the crystals, it seems, is that they form a magical prison for an alien sorcerer called X-Death. Galuf came to this world to help create this prison, then stayed to watch over it, and, over time, went native.

So, basically, we have a bunch of history, including family connections, for each of the main characters except Bartz, who doesn’t even have a proper name in this edition. He’s the empty shell for you to project yourself into. This is probably why I found it moving when I found his home town.

It’s nestled in a forest surrounded by mountains, impossible to reach by airship: only a chocobo will do. It’s full of people who grew up with you and are pleased to see you return. They don’t say a lot, and there’s a bit of a less-is-more thing going on with that. But mainly, I was by this point accustomed to the idea that the viewpoint character is aloof from this world, and not directly engaged in anyone’s story, not even his own. So the effect is based not just on the idea that these people care about you/him, but that this was unexpected. Unexpected caring is the sweetest kind.

Final Fantasy V: Summoning and Obsolescence

Last night’s session consisted of little progress and lots of noodling around aimlessly in my airship. I’m at a point where the adventure is less directed than before. I know I have to try to protect the final Crystal, which means finding it. (I’m also pretty sure that finding it will trigger the plot event that results in its destruction, but that’s okay.) But since most of the map is open to me now, apart from a few mountainous areas where the airship can’t land, it’s not at all obvious where I’m supposed to go next. I had some leads, and I followed them, and now I’m stuck.

But one of the nice things about RPGs is that they give you goals you can pursue while stuck. I’ve gained a few job levels, and I’ve bought some better equipment (although I’m still severely limited by what’s available to buy), and I’ve conquered Ramuh, one of the basic summonables.

Final Fantasy‘s summoning mechanism is another one of the distinctive things about the series. Pretty much every episode from FF3 onward provides some kind of summoning, and FF5 makes it a Job. The way it generally works is: your summoner casts a spell (costing an ungodly amount of mana), and your entire party is temporarily replaced by a legendary being who does a great deal of damage, usually to all enemies at once, and then disappears. Summoning Ramuh amounts to casting a souped-up lightning bolt, and counts as such for creatures with resistance or vulnerability to electrical damage. Later episodes have elaborate non-interactive animated summoning sequences; how much you like the later games is in large part determined by how quickly these animations bore you. Sometimes summonables can be found or purchased, as is the case for a few low-level ones in this game. Sometimes, as in the case of Ramuh, they must be encountered and defeated.

Now, in most of the Final Fantasy games I’ve played, summoning is pretty much your biggest magic. It’s one of the things you bring out for the bosses. But here, it’s completely it’s overshadowed by other new class abilities. For example, the Geomancer can do damage comparable to the creatures I can currently summon, and do it at no mana cost. Geomancy doesn’t allow the kind of control that Summoning does — the effect is random, and if it’s an effect that requires a target, the target is random as well. But who cares, when you can cast it every single round?

Similarly, the Hunter has an ability to call on woodland creatures (yes, even from inside a dungeon) that sometimes does damage, sometimes does nothing, and sometimes heals the entire party for a few hundred points. Even though the healing only comes up every once in a while, it pretty much renders the White Mage job obsolete. Presumably I’ll eventually acquire new, more powerful spells for both the White Mage and the Summoner that tip the scales in their favor again. It’s just another way that this game puts the Job system at the forefront of the player’s attention.

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