Rub, Wiggle and Blow

Rub, Wiggle and Blow
The Battleship Final Fantasy

Ray Huling | 9 Dec 2008 13:14
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Unfortunately, misdirected praise for Final Fantasy IV resulted in the misapplication of its formula. Today's Final Fantasy offers the biggest, most wildly convoluted plots possible, depicting them in endless overproduced cut scenes, without tying them to gameplay. Final Fantasy has never produced a good or even coherent plot, a compelling character, a line of believable dialogue or a scene worthy of anything but a Saturday morning cartoon. All of which is perfectly fine if the meanderings of the storyline actually match up with how you play the game. Without this correlation, a Final Fantasy plot becomes mere chaos. The action of Final Fantasy XII is huge, elaborate and entirely without purpose - a battleship if I ever saw one.

A Model Completionist
All games that cater to completionists share something with the art of building model ships. They're both concerned with monomaniacal attention to detail. In putting together my model Yamato, I make use of extensive instructions, numerous specialized tools, photos, books and notes made by other people who have assembled the same kit. Playing Final Fantasy IV on DS, I followed S.B. Allen's excellent FAQ - a 200-plus-page beast that directs the player on the multiple playthroughs necessary to collect all possible abilities and items.

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The remake ramps up the gameplay of FFIV, which had already accreted more and more options as it passed through various ports. It's a real treat to get everything just right in the game, to assign the Dualcast Augment to Rosa the White Mage, to hook up Kain with the Holy Lance, to max out everyone's stats. Accomplishing such things in a Final Fantasy game, rather than, say, a twitchy shooter, requires patience and endurance. Go slowly about things and, in the end, you'll have constructed a perfect game, suitable for display.

Yet the optional elements that demand so much effort to achieve on the DS represent only a bite-size version of the gaming Gargantua Final Fantasy has become. Mini-games, bestiaries, accessories, rare monsters, rare weapons - Christ! The humongousness of it all defies belief, defies completion. Sure, people have achieved all that can be achieved in a game like Final Fantasy XII - one of its FAQs, not even the largest, is spread across more than 770 pages. But people built the actual Battleship Yamato, too, which now lies in two pieces on the floor of the ocean off Okinawa.

Just as has happened with the main plot, the sidequests of Final Fantasy have become ends in themselves, separated from any notion of the fun they were supposed to provide. Final Fantasy has the most compelling profile of any videogame. It bristles with guns - but what can actually be done with all of that firepower?

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