In gaming, as with any medium, there are a number of franchises which have blazed a trail for the rest: genre-defining behemoths which have influenced and affected everything that followed them. But among these series, which are the standout entries – the best of the best?
Today, Mike and Andy are arguing over a franchise which will be dear to the heart of any fan of RPGs or just general Japanese craziness – Final Fantasy. Turns out they have quite different opinions about which game is the best though, so watch out, this might get vicious. If you’re lucky, there may be mud involved. Let the battle commence!
Andy: One thing that I think is interesting to note is that we’ve both chosen PS1 era games. Do you want to quickly tell the ladies and gentlemen at home which you’ve picked?
Mike: Perhaps unsurprisingly, this was an easy choice for me. Final FantasyVII has set the bar so high, every RPG I’ve played since 1997 has been held up to this standard, and almost every title has fallen woefully short. The pre-rendered graphics, music, gameplay and story all came together to deliver an experience that may never be topped by any game.
Andy: Going for the popular choice – good old predictable Mike. I’ve gone for the true connoisseur’s choice – Final Fantasy IX.
Mike: Ah, playing devil’s advocate. Good old predictable Andy.
If we judge based purely on iconic images, FFVII wins hands down. But we don’t.
Andy: …Shut up. OK, moving on, let’s get the obvious point out of the way first: when it comes to the technical side of things, FFIX beatsVII hands down. IX is the work of a team who’d truly mastered everything the PS1 had to offer, and that shines through in every aspect of the game. Everything about it is gorgeous – frankly,VII’s blocky, mouthless character models are laughable by comparison. More so than they already were, I mean.
Mike: Admittedly, it didn’t take long for the characters in particular to look very dated in FFVII. Even FFVIII, whose graphics aren’t a lot better, went for a more realistic approach which holds up a lot better now. FFIX definitely steps it up a notch, and the FMVs as well are a big improvement. That said, I’ve played FFVII again recently, and it doesn’t take long to settle into the old style. After a while the gameplay and plot begin to shine through, and that’s really what matters. And speaking of plot, does it get any better than FFVII? A global struggle against an opponent who is both awesomely powerful, and awesomely insane. But also one that your character looked up to, and trusted. Of course we’ve seen plots like it before, and will see them again, but the storytelling was just so well done here.
Andy: The story in FFVII may have been good, but the writing – or at least the translation – was frequently hilarious. Remember “This guy are sick”? Or how about Barret, in the first boss fight, saying “Attack while it’s tail’s up” when that’s exactly what you’re not meant to do? FFIX had both a great story and great writing, plus the translation was top notch so the dialogue felt a lot more natural. What’s more, FFIX actually had a likeable main character in Zidane – which was a merciful break after grumpy ol’ Cloud and Squall “…” Leonheart.
Mike: Yeah the FF games have got progressively better sinceVII in terms of dialogue. I actually quite liked Cloud as a character though. I definitely could have done with a lot less “…” dialogues though. We get it, you don’t have a lot to say. Still, in the latter stages of the game you saw a lot more of the guy behind the cold exterior, and earlier on the time where you fight as a young version of him alongside Sephiroth was amazing. There were a lot of other characters to like in FFVII too. Barret and Red XIII for example were deceptively complex, and although you don’t like Sephiroth as a person, he’s a great character.
I don’t need a witty caption here. Vivi speaks for himself.
Andy: You make some good points, but I see your points and raise you Vivi Ornitier. Vivi is a black mage – in FFIX’s world, a sentient automaton race rather than simply a profession – and the most adorable, empathy worthy character in any Final Fantasy game. His struggle to recognise and accept his own power or even his existence could easily have made him another mopey FF hero, but they didn’t: he remained a chirpy, upbeat companion and a pleasure to journey with throughout the game. Sure, the rest of the characters were great – particularly comedy knight Steiner, with his constantly clanky armour – but one Vivi is worth any ten other FF characters.
Mike: Hehe, fair enough! What about the battle system then? FFVII’s battle system doesn’t do anything particularly revolutionary, but it’s strong on everything it does do. Some of the battle are tough, and require clever use of elemental weaknesses etc. Limit breaks are useful, but mainly they’re just there to be awesome. I don’t think FFVII had quite the tactical battles of say FFX, but I think it holds its own, even now.
Andy: To be honest, the battle systems in FF games – with the exception of XII’s oddness and XIII’s terrible hands-off approach – are generally much of a muchness. And yes, Im including FFX in that list – tactical battles my bum! FFIX does at least let you have four people in your party at a time, though, which gives you a somewhat wider range of strategic options. With three characters you’re pretty much limited to tank, DPS mage and healer, so having an extra character available adds some welcome flexibility.
Can I just take a moment here to mention once again how pap FFXIII’s battle system is, though? What were they thinking?
Aeris in the foreground there. As you will recall, nothing bad happens to her and everyone lives happily ever after.
Mike: It’s like you wrote that paragraph just to make me rage! I really liked FFXIII’s battle system, the later bosses in particular were really well designed, and the whole thing felt fast-paced and exciting. I do agree though that it was too streamlined, and that for true tactics you’d need to play the previous games. FFX, being truly turn-based, meant you could really focus on every single ability and turn.
Anyway, if we assume thatVIIand IX are on par when it comes to battle system, what about the magic side of things? Few games have topped the materia system. It meant you could spend ages tweaking and re-tweaking your setup, and were free to have any character play almost any role. Plus, Knights of the Round!
Andy: You know what? I agree. The materia system worked really well. So well, in fact, that I’m tempted to concede this point to FFVII….but I won’t! IX ties skills with equipment, so outfitting a character with, say, a Shiny Bracelet grants that character the ability to cast “Sleep” so long as they keep the bracelet on. Wear it long enough, though, and they learn the ability permanently. It’s a neat way of integrating disparate systems, which as you well know, makes me moist. Overall though, can we call this one a draw? Yeah, it’s totally a draw.
One area IX beatsVIIhands down though (other than graphics and pretty much everything else) is in the job system. OK, it’s not a traditional job system, as you can’t pick and choose: each character has their own specific role to play, and that can’t be changed. But it meant that everyone had a specific purpose, unlikeVIIwhere every character was pretty much a jack of all trades. I laugh in the face of a game which would allow you to make the guy who looks like Mr. T into your party’s healer without penalty.
Mike: Ha, yeah Barret’s healing skills were extremely out of place! I see your point, while having jacks of all trades granted you a lot of freedom, sometimes more restriction makes everything more realistic. On the plus side, the writers did try and explain the use of magic through materia, which was created by a long planetary process. Part of what made FFVII so good was the whole planet thing, kind of like an environmental film, but way less boring! The steampunk feel was also great, the towns and cities were all beautifully designed.
Andy: Did you just list realism as a positive in a Final Fantasy title? OK, that’s it, next time I see you I’m going to defenestrate you. Prepare to lose your fenestrates.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the setting. I’m a big fan of cyberpunk, so I was always going to like FFVII’s setting (yes it’s totally cyberpunk, shut up.) FFIX had a bit more of an uphill battle here: at first glance, it appears to be pretty standard sword-and-sorcery stuff. But then you get to the airships, the weird big-tongued chefs and the aforementioned robo mages, and it becomes a lot more intriguing. The meshing of fantasy and technology was more expertly handled than in FFVII, which leant far harder on the latter.
Also, the royal castle, which you explore early on, turns out to be a giant summon (sorry, “eidolon”) which destroys Bahamut. Awesome.
75 hp? Whoa, look out, we got a tough guy here!
Mike: It was awesome! What are your favourite moments from FFIX? FFVII has some pretty strong candidates here, Aeris’ murder, Sephiroth burning down your town. I also really liked the first time you go to the golden saucer, I genuinely hadn’t seen video like that in a game before. It’s weird to look back, with all the graphics we have these days, but that blew my mind. One perhaps lesser known awesome moment for me was in FFX, where you leave Zanarkand and find Sin outside waiting for you. Tidus simply tells it they’re not ready, and it slowly moves away. That was very poignant.
Andy: Don’t forget the moment where you all zipline down from the airship to interrupt Yuna and Seymour’s wedding. OK, it smelled a bit like 90s skater cool, but I still enjoyed it, dammit.
Comparatively, FFX is reasonably light on “awesome” moments. It’s generally a tighter, more personal story – much of it is about the conflict between Garnet and her mother, Queen Brahne – which was a nice change of pace for the series. (The kind of change of pace for the series you can come home to after a hard day at school.) That’s not to say it was without those epic parts, but if you want to judge purely on scale and bombast, sure – FFVII wins here. Judge it on overall story quality though, and…well, we’d be repeating ourselves. I’m pretty convinced I won in that category earlier, right?
Mike: Doesn’t FFIX fall down a bit on the final boss battles though? FFVII really steps it up a notch here; travelling down to the centre of the earth, taking on your arch nemesis, who’s grown massive abs and a wing? Oh yes, that’s the stuff. Also, I’ll never forget busting out Omnislash for the literal win.
Andy: I can’t really defend FFIX here: the final boss is a complete non-sequitur bunch of nonsense. It would’ve been so much better if the game just ended after the fight with Kuja, but no: “We need an extra boss fight!” said someone at Squaresoft. “There’s no room to introduce another main villain in the plot now,” replied another. “No matter! Just throw something random in and say it’s all powerful! Job done!” So yeah, you can have this point.
But then the ending sequence, with the Tantalus troupe reuniting to perform “I Want to Be Your Canary”….OK, it sounds stupid, but trust me, it’s great.
Which reminds me, one more clear win for FFIX: number of nobles impressed. As I recall, none were impressed in FFVII.
Mike: Hehe, quite! Still, FFVII has much, much bigger swords. I feel this is important, do I win?
Well, it seems like Andy and Mike aren’t going to agree on this one, but sadly neither will it get to the mudwrestling stage. Dammit. Fingers crossed the next one of these articles will get more vicious! In the meantime, which Final Fantasy is your favourite? Let us know below!