Off topic jrpg video game review

Posted 2020-10-12

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Adam's RPG thoughts

First, I'm going to write some thoughts on Final Fantasy games, then will write on some specific topics afterward.

Final Fantasy reviews

Over the last few months, I've been playing through the SNES final fantasies again. I played ff4, ff6, and ff mystic quest each once a long time ago and started this replay with MQ, then 4, 5, and I am now restarting 6.

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest

Mystic Quest is ok. I like a few of the songs, otherwise mostly ok. I do kinda like how you can switch weapons at any time in battle and on the field to change things up - a little bit more strategy in fights and some of the dungeon puzzles are ok, though it all got old kinda quickly.

I found myself really liking having dungeons cleared out though, to play with the exploration and puzzle better without random battles jumping in.

Final Fantasy 4

FF4 isn't bad. I like a lot of the songs (BTW I listen to lots of FF music, so even though I haven't played the game itself for a while, I know all the songs very well and already have my favorites picked out lol), the story is passable - a bunch of annoying silliness but still i'll forgive it - and the gameplay is ok. I like learning new spells on level up, it is an empty slot to get excited about. The spells themselves though are kinda harmed by their charge time, but I like the concept.

The random battles are a bit much though, like I don't think it should ever happen two consecutive steps. Otherwise I enjoyed the game's length though.

Final Fantasy 5

I never played FF5 myself before now, though my brother played it before so parts were kinda familiar to me already, but it was mostly new to me. I liked it... but didn't love it.

For the first time ever, I actually wanted to mute the sound. It felt blasphemous - Nobuo Uematsu usually does great work - but yeah, some of the songs were just outright grating. There's a few pieces I enjoy, but so many of them were just too short; too repetitive.

The frequent random battles doing so much damage and persistent status effects hampered my ability to enjoy the job system - I felt like I had to always keep a couple white mages (or at least use one of the very limited ability slots for white magic) just to keep going. And enemies blinding all, what a drag!

That said though, I like how some of the niche jobs were kinda useful. Control from the beastmaster is super useful. The geomancer's and thief's passives are cool, I like the secret passages view! The mastery - which takes FOREVER until the end - enables you to feel like a walking god... just too late to enjoy it. The removal of charge times from spells is probably good compared to ff4 but... I still like the concept, it just needs to be informed and balanced.

The brief pause when it becomes your turn before the ATB continues flowing is a nice touch, though it can make actually waiting for something a bit obnoxious. Chrono Trigger did it better.

Visually, I thing the game is beautiful. The story is good enough, though nothing special. Another thing I missed though was buying equipment. Oh, it has stores, of course, but it doesn't tell you much about how good the stuff is, so it is hard to decide if it is worth it.

So I'd probably mark it good, but not great. I like the idea of the job system but the execution here left space to be desired. I preferred it in Final Fantasy Tactics.

Final Fantasy 6

I just started the replay here, but its soundtrack is back to awesome, oh how I love the overworld theme in this game.

I don't like how the overworld looks though. The fancy angle hurts usability. More when I finish it perhaps.

Final Fantasy 9

FF9 is the other entry I played just once. Hopefully I will find time to play it a second time at some point this year too. I know the first time though I hated the long cutscenes and the very slow battle transition... maybe I can hack those away with the emulator (I'm replaying all these at 2-3x speed)


In defense of level grinding

I find it amusing that I am so annoyed with animations, menus, and movement speed for eating my time... but I actually kinda enjoy level grinding.

Part of the utility of video games is just something to do when you don't feel like doing anything else. They fill time that would otherwise be wasted anyway.

Level grinding is a totally mindless way to spend time while feeling like it is kinda useful because some number on a screen gets bigger.

It has a practical benefit too: in effect, you are trading mindless time now for semi-minded time later. See, higher levels mean easier gameplay later. Perhaps more enjoyable to play like a walking god in the game.

So I do think grinding serves a purpose. That said, I don't think it should ever be *required*, that's really annoying, but keeping the option doesn't bother me at all. I think it is about as valid a way to waste time as playing a game in the first place - ultimately, isn't it ALL just a mindless time sink?

(now, would I be ok with a game offering an instant level skip? you know i kinda would. like nobody says you have to use it, but if you want to turn the difficulty down or just play god early on, why not have a kind of "cheat code" right there in the menu?)

On battle abilities

Battle abilities need to be easy to use and actually make a difference. Final Fantasy frequently fails on both these: digging through menus is a hassle and wastes time (even on battle mode wait, it is slower to just button down than to hold A, but also the real life time difference is real), and so many of them just plain don't work anyway. It is the exception that, say, poison works on a boss battle, and normal attacks are better on random battles. So I basically never use poison spells! And others in the category.

Mystic Quest letting you change your weapon is a nice touch, though it is basically just knowing the rock-paper-scissors of the monster target, and still a bit awkward to control.

Phantasy Star IV's use of battle macros is really nice though. You set your desired abilities - in order even (though I kinda wish you could control what was ordered and unordered but meh) ahead of time, then just pick that from the menu. Something like that combined with the spells working better would be cool, then perhaps some tweaking after the fact.

A criticism I hear of some things, especially FF8's junction, is that the battles are really won or lost in the menus ahead of time, not on the battle screen. If you "break the game" with the right selections, you win.

Well, I kinda like that! Is it "breaking the game" in American football to practice pre-planned routes in your play? No, that's an integral part to the game's design.

Of course, a winning team also needs to select the right play at the right time, execute it correctly, and adapt to the defense actively trying to thwart you on the field, but you ALSO need to be prepared ahead of time. I like that.

Just there shouldn't be one obvious answer. I think the games should be designed that there's several options all equally easy to access in the UI and equally valuable in gameplay.

With a PC target, you might just put them on hotkeys, like q, w, e, and r hotkeys instead of arrowing through menus. But I want my game to be in that same old style, using something like a SNES controller.

One option I've been toying with more and more is a kind of radial menu. Instead of arrowing around, you arrow and hold in a direction then execute with the other thumb.

For example, left arrow might be physical attack, up arrow white magic, right arrow item, down arrow black magic. Then each sub-option is attached to the buttons A, B, X, Y. So up arrow + A = cast cure. down arrow + X = cast bolt.

Limiting the number of slots you have can also be part of the preparation design of the game and some character customization angle, but you may also change your palette selection for different situations.

While such a design is traditionally more common in real time games, it might be interesting to explore in turn based games - just because the game clock has stopped doesn't mean the real life player's time need be wasted by suboptimal UI.

idk if I'd actually like that, but it is something I'm pondering. My big hesitation with such chord-style input is you basically have to do it two handed, and with the baby so frequently occupying one of my limbs it is on my mind a lot how to keep things working without complex input. But eh, most traditional menus also basically take two hands anyway..... unless you just hold A to win..... lol. Perhaps combined with the PS4 style pre-planned macros.

Moreover, I think I want to remove the command "Attack" in favor of some different things. Like perhaps "swing", "thrust", and "cut" instead. This is a kind of rock-paper-scissors again, but it might dynamically adjust. Just to make things a little more interesting without straying too far from the old style.

And outright immunity would rarely happen, I hate totally ineffective things.

On random battles

A lot of people totally hate random battles and I get it. They can be totally annoying. But I also think they can serve a legitimate purpose, forcing you to plan for a bit of attrition as you work through the dungeon. They also make you think about the trade off when treasure hunting - is it worth risking more fights? (But if it is a clear "no", you've failed in design!)

However, they shouldn't be extremely annoying. They should take a bit of thought to clear out, but not force you down one particular gameplay path. They shouldn't happen too frequently. And they probably shouldn't be an outright game over (FFMQ's "give up?" option after death is kinda legit.).

The designer should really plan on there being a certain number of fights of a certain difficulty, then just adjust the random frequency to hit that on average. I also like clearing out certain rooms and being able to just wander - I think I'd enjoy a diminishing frequency of fights.

I usually code it as "you will get a fight in X steps", where X is some random number between min and max. Could be as simple as each fight you do, min increases by one.

One of the things I like about FF8 too is the Enc-None ability. Yes, you can turn random battles off in its menu. I'd kinda say just embrace it, just like the automatic level up "cheat code" I mentioned previously.

On equipment

Later FF's did this fine, but early ones would make equipment a mystery. You'd have to check the status screen before and after equipping to see what it did, and even that wouldn't always tell you.

I do kinda like some hidden special abilities, that's fun to discover. Sometimes. But most the time, the game should just tell you. The shop screen needs to say how many you have and compare numbers with other things right there so you can make an informed choice.

These games are about players picking things after all. Embrace the numbers. Show the numbers.

On jobs

I'm always somewhere split on the Final Fantasy job system. We can break it up into three basic categories:

1) FF1 style. You pick something at startup and play with it throughout.

2) FF4 style. It is intrinsic to the characters. Story picks it. FF6 and 9 are variations on this to allow more customization but basically the same idea.

3) FF5 style. You can change at any time.

Yes, I know there's more, basically every entry in the series has its own variation, but these are the three I want to talk about.

FF1 style I feel kinda boosts the replayability. You have to decide on early game vs late game jobs and stick with it. Can be interesting to trade one challenge for another.

FF4 style is probably easiest on the story writers but meh, it isn't as fun. Picking your party from established characters like this can be cool though.

FF5 style, in theory, could be the same as FF1 style: you can have the self-imposed challenge of picking with a certain set and not changing it. But still, the presence of the job menu sure encourages more back-loaded decisions instead of front-loaded.

I think, in the spirit of user choice, the FF5 style is better (though I'd prolly open up all the jobs immediately!), though I personally prefer the gameplay decisions when playing FF1 style.