Rub, Wiggle and Blow

Rub, Wiggle and Blow
The Battleship Final Fantasy

Ray Huling | 9 Dec 2008 13:14
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Thinking of these games as tiny replicas actually makes it easier to suffer the flaws endemic to Final Fantasy. Sure, you're still pixel-bitching every corner of every town in order to find those potions you'll never use, but because the game plays out in the palm of your hand, it seems like a lark. You can chortle to yourself: "Ha! This is how Grandpa used to play!" You're not enduring the real Final Fantasy, which sucks now; you're comparing models of that ancient game.

Final Fantasy in a Bottle
Final Fantasy IV on the DS embodies two models in one. The original FFIV's plot has served as a model for all the games that have followed it in the series, and the expansion of the new FFIV's gameplay is modeled on the vast possibilities available in the newer Final Fantasy games.

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In fact, ship models go both ways, too. The plastic Yamato that I'm building represents a real vessel, but the shipwright who built that vessel himself relied on hand-made design models to guide his work. What's surprising is that what happened with the Yamato happened with Final Fantasy: The models proved better than the ship itself.

Consider the plot of Final Fantasy IV, which is praised, correctly, as the best of the series. You play as Cecil, a Dark Knight serving the kingdom of Baron. As the game begins, Cecil massacres a number of innocents and steals their magic crystal for his king. Cecil comes to regret this crime and so sets himself on a path to redemption, saving the world along the way.

Much of the acclaim for FFIV's plot focuses on its complexity. At least six major betrayals occur. Four playable characters suffer amnesia or mind control. Five playable characters commit suicide for noble ends. Four of them recover. Cecil's best friend, Kain, supports him, betrays him, supports him again, betrays him again, then, finally, supports him once more. Three playable characters turn out to be related. Seven turn out to be nobility.

What both fans and the developers of Final Fantasy have misunderstood is that no one enjoys this plot for itself. In its own right, the plot of FFIV is idiotic. It just seems good because we mistake the fun of playing a varied game for delight in a winding narrative. FFIV has such risible convolutions because these betrayals and deaths and family ties justify the constant rotation of the party roster. They vary gameplay. It's one thing to face down challenges with a Dark Knight and a Dragoon; it's something quite different with a Paladin, two kid magicians and an old wizard. The plot serves merely to explain why the player has one set of options rather than another.

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