December 24, 2006

Final Fantasy 3 Of 5 Stars

Filed under: digital — mhoye @ 12:38 am

Most of my video-game time goes into my DS these days; most of that time happens during my subway commute, and even a modest home-entertainment system can be cumbersome to carry on the TTC. Also, the extension cord is awkward.

Periodically you hear someone that, one presumes, is on the cutting edge of one kind of academic wankery or another in elaborating some narrow sociology pertaining to video games; I however am a rare and precious intellectual jewel, and their soi-disant “cutting edge” is to me a barren and destitute land littered with the spent, rusted hulks of yesterday’s novelty. I am also here to talk about video games, you understand, but not through these trivial convolutions of the pedestrian terminology to which you’ve grown sadly accustomed. No, I am here to take it to the limit.

I’m really not here to take anything towards any sort of limit, but once that paragraph got going you can sort of see how it would take on a life of its own. It’s not a thing to be reconciled with logic, common sense or basic human decency but, nevertheless, this is how I roll.

So anyway, I’m playing Final Fantasy 3 these days and it is, sadmakingly, another game I’m just not going to finish. It’s pretty, starts out fun and it reminds me of the turn-based combat and mazes of some of the first quest games I played as a very young nerd, but it’s just not very well tuned.

You’re no doubt familiar with the tropes if you’ve every played a game that involves a hero and a dungeon, but if you’re wandering around outside or in one of the FF3 dungeons you’re going to have a random encounter; whoops, you’ve stumbled into a gaggle of monsters. Again.

In FF3, this is very true; you’re going to find monsters (that, if you’re making forward progress, and because the monsters are very well tuned will stand a passable chance of killing one of ur doods) every twenty seconds or so. They take a minute or so to fight off at best, and while that’s pretty neat for the first five minutes or so, it starts to get pretty tiresome at about minute six.

Among a small set of forgivable sins is the fact that, like many games of its era, it’s got a plot on rails; you can’t accomplish much without sticking to the script, even though it’s still possible to wander into places you shouldn’t go where you’ll get immediately ganked. It’s a product of its time, though, and I’m willing to overlook that. The magic system is a bit of a mess (spells aren’t really knowledge, they’re just items) and the fact that you can’t switch jobs and remember how you did any part of your old job is super-annoying, but I can also understand why you’d want to do that from a game design/play perspective.

Really, the thing that’s going to keep me from making much more progress is the frequency of the combat. Random encounters are really random, so you can’t clear a room or anything, something that’s a little disconcerting; even areas that had been, according to the story line, sealed by the magic whatevers to protect the other magic whatever until moments before you arrived are somehow still full of malicious critters. And the mazes, so far, are tiny little things – they just take half an hour or more to get through because you have to butcher your way through them. This stopped being fun and started being grindwork after a while, where “a while” is measured in not-that-longs.

The monster-gang matchups are a little odd sometimes too, like you’re being attacked by a fox, a chicken and a bag of grain – you sit there thinking, “I know I shouldn’t be worrying about this kind of thing but, honestly, I don’t think you three should be collaborating here.”

I’ve got to say, though, that the more grindy and tedious it’s gotten, the more I wonder about the entire non-player video game world I’m walking around in. How does this economy sustain itself? Where does the food come from? If it’s way too dangerous to step outside of this oddly-undefended town, why is there still an inn here?

Now, I’m totally willing to suspend my disbelief for this. Magic, sure. Monsters, dragons castles, dungeons, that’s the name of this game; bring ’em on. Seafaring tall ships that can fold up the sails and roll out helicopter blades and fly around instead, why not? Mongrel animals that always seem to have a few hundred in gold on them? Well, that last one is one of the more idiotic conventions of the genre, but what the hell, I’m in. At least I don’t have to break all the pottery in the world to scrounge a few bucks in this one.

But with these ostensibly random encounters happening all the damn time, I keep thinking to myself: listen, monsters; don’t you guys talk to each other? Is there no off-camera communication here?

Every time one of you guys steps up my crew you get struck by lighting, set on fire, frozen and carved into dog food. Some of the time you even get your pocket picked or smacked with a book on your way through the meat grinder. Don’t you guys ever get together and say “you know, I don’t know about you but I thought Grog, Zerk and Warg were a couple of tough kobolds, strong, mean, good fighters and so on, and these guys we’re about to jump just chewed them up, spit them out and pissed on the leftovers. Maybe we should think about, you know, waiting for easier pickings to wander past? Maybe a deer or one of the townspeople or something? I’m just sayin'”.


  1. I agree with everything you’re saying, and it’s why I quit playing FF VII after five minutes, and why watching my wife playing FF VIII filled me with pain and hatred toward Square. If the real world were like this, I’d never make it to my garage without a pocket full of healing potions.

    I’m told that the latest Final Fantasy game (and the Blue Dragon game made by the original Final Fantasy guy) have finally, finally, fixed this stupidity, thereby making it possible that I’ll actually pick up a JRPG at some point in the future and attempt to play it.

    Comment by Mike Kozlowski — December 24, 2006 @ 1:57 am

  2. I’m not sure that I’m going to finish it either, though for different reasons.

    See, I don’t mind all of the random battles, and in fact have gone off looking to pick fights so I can level up. I’ve only changed jobs when absolutely necessary because I have a favored party (Paladin, White Mage, Black Mage, Thief). And I’m looking at the game from the perspective of “It’s 16 years old. Of course it’s going to play like it’s 16 years old. I’m largely enjoying the game overall.

    The problem is that I’ve made it all the way to the endgame…and the final boss keeps KICKING MY ASS. So I have to go all the way through the whole damned Crystal Tower again, there’s nowhere to save inside the Tower…I’m on attempt 5.

    Comment by Maggie — December 24, 2006 @ 9:55 am

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