Nov. 28th, 2016

rionaleonhart: final fantasy versus xiii: a young woman at night, her back to you, the moon high above. (nor women neither)
We're on the verge of a new main-series Final Fantasy release! It's been a while.

One of the things that fascinates me about the Final Fantasy series is the way it reinvents itself with every new game. Every entry in the series tries new things; every entry has its own set of strengths and weaknesses.

Here, for no particular reason, is my list of pros and cons of the main-series games I've played extensively (I haven't played the online entries, and VI is the only 2D release I've played for a substantial amount of time). Direct sequels and spin-offs aren't included. I've tried to avoid very subjective judgements, which is why 'the characters are the beeeeest' doesn't appear under VIII and XIII. Please imagine that 'music' appears on the 'pros' list for all of these games except XII (sorry, XII).

Final Fantasy VI:
Pros: Still looks good twenty years later. Characters all have distinct battle abilities. You can suplex a train.
Cons: Feels a bit unfocused on account of having too many characters and a non-linear second half.

Final Fantasy VII:
Pros: Materia system allows for interesting setups. Midgar is a great setting. Fascinating storyline.
Cons: Graphics have aged badly. Awkward translation. These two things, combined with oddly out-of-the-way backstory cutscenes, make the fascinating storyline very difficult to grasp. It's sometimes hard to tell how you're supposed to progress. (The upcoming remake may well resolve some or all of these issues.)

Final Fantasy VIII:
Pros: Actively rewards not getting experience, so it's great if you prefer exploring and progressing the storyline to fighting random encounters. Triple Triad!
Cons: Confusing stat system, making it easy to screw up your playthrough if you don't know what you're doing. Revolves very, very strongly around Squall, which is great news if you like Squall but may make things tricky if you don't. Story falls apart at disc 3.

Final Fantasy IX:
Pros: Fun and cute! Doesn't take itself too seriously, on the whole, despite dealing with some bleak themes. Contains Chocobo Hot & Cold, the greatest minigame ever made.
Cons: Slow battle system. You will eventually finish the Chocobo Hot & Cold sidequest and be sad that there are no more Chocographs to find.

Final Fantasy X:
Pros: Nicely strategic battle system. Excellent levelling system; the Sphere Grid defines initial roles for the party members but allows for customisation. Strong, reasonably coherent storyline (this is very rare in a Final Fantasy game), although things get weird as you approach the end (this, by contrast, is very common). Probably the most accessible game in the series for newcomers.
Cons: Very linear. Awkward voice acting. A bit too cutscene-heavy. The European release likes to drop murderous superbosses in your face when you're innocently trying to revisit previous locations.

Final Fantasy XII:
Pros: Great translation; a lot of thought has gone into the way different characters would speak. Intricate world. No random encounters.
Cons: Poorly paced; long segments without any story advancement make it hard to follow the plot. Although the voice acting is good, the sound quality (on the PS2 version, at least) is poor. Boss battles tend to be a bit of a slog.

Final Fantasy XIII:
Pros: Good pacing, great battle system, gorgeous. Extensively explores the relationships between the party members. Rarely demands grinding.
Cons: Very linear; no sense of exploration. Writing occasionally lacks subtlety. No gameplay variety; there are battles and there are cutscenes, but that's your lot.

I've no doubt that Final Fantasy XV will also get some things right and some things very wrong, and I'm looking forward to seeing what those things are. Going by this lovely piano-and-violin piece from the Episode Duscae demo (and the fact that the composer is Yoko Shimomura), 'music' seems likely to be one of its successes.

If you'd offer different upsides or downsides for any of these games, I'd be interested to hear about them!