No. 1 – Final Fantasy VIII

So, here it is. FFVIII is the number one Final Fantasy game for me. Not the most popular choice but I do have reasons. Hopefully, you won’t stop reading out of disgust. You’ll give me a chance to explain and you’ll even accept a different opinion from FFVII at the top. Maybe?
Story
I’ll hold my hands up and admit it right now – this is not the best story seen in the series. In fact, too many parts of it seem to try and rival VII in some way, which makes it even less appealing considering the different world, look and system involved. That being said, it’s not the worst story either, compared to titles on either side of its release. It is pretty decent overall, with some areas standing out and others lacking. It’s like many Final Fantasy titles in this respect.
The characters are the same. Squall is an emo kid, we get it. He’s annoyingly cool for the first 20 minutes, maybe (if you’re having a good day) but then gets to be a pain in the ass very quickly. By the end, he’s actually grown as a person though, which is something a lot of protagonists throughout Final Fantasy titles just do not do. Each character has flaws to their personality that makes life difficult but they have a goal and they come together to get it done – the romance story is probably one of the weaker aspects while Laguna’s story is great just for the comedy they (try to) bring.
Graphics and music
FFVIII carried on from FFVII’s graphics leap, and it made the game stunning at the time – especially the CGI scenes. Even now, it doesn’t hold up too badly compared to some older games, just a bit blocky but what do you expect from a Playstation title. The music is great too and catches the tone of each scene and area perfectly. These are two areas that Square (later Square-Enix) would later seem to prioritise over gameplay and story. They seem to take the attitude that looks mean everything. Hopefully, they’ll learn that while good and pretty, there’s far more to a title than that.
Junction system
This is probably my favourite aspect of the game, and my favourite system of all Final Fantasygames to date. The system was as simple or as complex as you wanted. You could choose an automatic setup or you could do it yourself and I spent hours tailoring my characters to suit my style of play.
Being reasonably young on the first time playing, I didn’t realise that using junctioned magic MADE ME WEAKER with each spell. Obvious now, I know, but it made magic more tactical than how strong the magic stat was, what the weakness was and how much MP or Mana I had. It would directly impact other stats. Magic was, in some cases, difficult to find so more strategy was needed.
What really let this system down was the ease of which you could max out GF’s (Guardian Forces – AKA summons) and the 1,000 experience points per level. A tiered system would have been more difficult.
Side games
Triple Triad! I love this little card game – it’s a fun addition that isn’t actually necessary to completing the game. Tactical thinking and a variety of rules make it fun to play, even if the AI is a little too predictable at times. I’d love an updated version and I do remember the days where a group of FFVIII fans got together and made an online version. I met some great people back then. The abilities involving Triple Triad and the items you could get definitely made this venture worth it on any play through.
Summary
Overall, FFVIII is a great game. It has its shortcomings as do most, if not all, games. Some people beat down on it more than others and I’m not sure why. Personal opinion plays a part, but as the title that followed VII, it had a lot to live up to and ultimately failed to surpass it according to most people. Then again, every title since VII has failed in that regard. Technically, I think it works well and it’s one of my favourite games to go back and play with one of the most enjoyable side games of the lot. It’s definitely one of my favourite games of all time and favourite Final Fantasytitle to date.
Side note
I haven’t included Kingdom Hearts or non-numbered titles in this top five. I love both Kingdom Hearts and titles such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Dissidia. They may get their own posts in the future – we’ll see. As it stands, this is based on my opinions of the five games covered, not influenced by other people or sales statistics or anything – just one gamer and his thoughts. I hope you’ve enjoyed the countdown and will join me for more next year.
Just to recap:
5 – FFX
4 – FFIV
3 – FFVI
2 – FFVII
1 – FVIII

No. 2 – Final Fantasy VII

Yes, Final Fantasy VII only comes to number two in my top five and I know that will cause some surprise (even controversy) among die-hard Final Fantasy fans about how I have no idea what I’m on about. Well, just bear with me and I’ll explain why.
On another note, I did say last time that I’m really grasping at straws for the top three because I love them all, so this is what it’s come down to.

The game

On its own, FFVII is probably my favourite game of the entire Final Fantasy franchise. The story is gripping, the characters (mostly relatable) and if you’ve managed to learn anything about me from these blogs, then you should know that I love science fiction and such related themes, even in a fantasy based genre!
It’s clear throughout the game that there is more to the story than we’re being told in this title. It keeps the audience wondering and we don’t need to know anything else – it’s great that we do learn (I’ll come to that) but it isn’t necessary for what I’m getting from the game, or what I want from it. There’s love, heart-break, betrayal, soul-searching, laughter, adventure, history and future and so much more. It could be a seven series long TV show or more with all the side stories and characters you come across.
The Materia system is brilliant too, and you get a chance to really give your characters abilities that you prefer and suit you style of play. This is based on your weapon and amour choices and a lot of time can be spent finding the best weapon and armour combination before you get your Materia combination right.
The Materia itself is a great way of doing things, and limits how often you can use abilities per battle before it resets after each fight. However, you can ‘master’ each one to get a new one and come up with some truly powerful (and almost unbeatable) combinations. In most, if not all cases, when you max out a Materia you get a new one so you can put each of your favourites on numerous characters. In the end, it makes things too easy if you try too much.
However, there is a point throughout the whole game, and the Cloud and Sephiroth rivalry is well-known, probably one of the most famous throughout the Final Fantasy series. The graphics and music for the time of release were also fantastic, and were a real ground-breaking move away from sprites (which I still miss). It was the beginning of a change in look for the series that has been carried on through to the current generation, and soon to be next generation, of titles.

All together

So, why is FFVII only number two in my top five? Well, unfortunately, this title isn’t just a game for me, and it’s nothing so simple is a VII-2 this time (thankfully). Unfortunately, with mobile games, handheld games console games, a movie and animated shorts all tied in to the VII universe, it’s almost impossible to tell what’s been planned and what has been added on as a money-maker.
Even if it was all planned, which I’m not completely sold on, the amount of information and planning is staggering. Cloud suffers from the same problems in almost every game he title he appears in, so what’s the point, other than a quick turnaround in Advent Children. Zack stands out like a sore thumb from the world and his Soldier mentors, which is interesting but his unwavering resolve doesn’t work for me. The story of the Turks isn’t convincing and made me like their characters less, making subsequent play throughs of any game less enjoyable. The only extra the series I enjoyed somewhat was the PS2 title Dirge of Cerberus, but it made me think more deeply into VII’s world than ever before and I still had answers and hopes of a sequel that was never to be thanks to simple mechanics and a lacking story not befitting the FFVII brand.
I could go on, but I’m giving you a taste of the problems of what has happened to the FFVII title. I could go on for quite some time, but this expansion of the world or and universe has decreased my love and enjoyment of what is a stand out game.

Conclusion

You may accept my arguments, or even agree with some of them, and it still wouldn’t make a difference. That’s fine, this is my opinion. FFVII on its own should probably be at the top spot, as it is for many fans. For me, having played and seen the other titles in this series, I’m less than thrilled now and while I, like most of you, would love a HD remake of this title, it would still never return to the top of my list now. However, it will always be up there as one of my favourite titles that I spent countless hours on through numerous play throughs.

Sony’s Next Generation Console Arrives: A Weekend with the PS4

Depending on how you look at it, I was one of the organised or very lucky ones to get Sony’s next-gen console, the PlayStation 4, on the first day of release. I told everyone I knew that for the whole weekend I’d be busy trying out the three games that came with the system. I’ll go into a little bit about these as well later. I’d also like to draw your attention a blog post from October where I attended Play Expo and got my first look at the console, controller and one game.
I’m not making any secret of the fact I have always been a PlayStation gamer. I wasn’t keen on the Xbox and while the 360 was better, there was never a big reason for me to switch. I’m pretty good at being objective but make of that what you will.

Console

Sharp, angular and very stylish is the easiest way to describe the PS4 console. I’ve read plenty of comments about how people don’t like it but it’s a definite improvement from the PS3 and it is plenty heavy – despite not being much bigger than a slim line PS3. My package came with two controllers and the camera, which offers little for me and my current selection of games but some interesting things to explore and try. This will hopefully be explored more in the future and while the camera most likely isn’t as advanced as the Microsoft counterpart, it is very responsive.
While you can connect to the internet wirelessly, unless you have a PlayStation Plus account (which is the paid version of the PlayStation Network) a lot of the online functionality and online multiplayer aspects of the games are not available. While not overly expensive, and with some handy features, it’s worth considering. Cloud storage will be one of the most used aspects, I predict, given the size of the hard drive, which sounds impressive, until you realise how big the game files are on the PS4. As an average guess, you might get 10 saved on there, and cloud storage will be needed if you don’t want to delete anything.
Better than that, though, is the fact you don’t have to wait for a game to download or install completely before you play it. Installing what you need as you need it makes the system much more efficient. Just something to keep in mind!

Killzone: Shadow Fall

This was the game included in the box with the console. I haven’t played the Killzone games other than the main console titles – the handheld console games eluded me – and each one was pretty good. The gameplay was good and each time, Killzone offered stunning visuals with a less than brilliant story. For Killzone: Shadow Fall, the pattern is largely the same. As expected with the next-gen console, the graphics are incredible (but if they weren’t, I’d be very disappointed) and the gameplay is still very good. The PS4 controller is well used and the touchpad has a use, although somewhat basic for what I would have liked. All you do with it is swipe up, down, left or right to determine the actions of your drone. It’s a start, but nowhere near what I’d hope it would be capable of.
Overall, it’s a great game that continues the legacy of Killzone well. The story and characters could be better but I’ve been blown away with how good it looks and how well it plays that I can get past it. The multiplayer was fun as well, which is useful in an FPS title.

Need for Speed: Rivals

So, generally I like my racing games more in the format of a bunch of cars on a circuit for X amount of laps and trying not to blow myself up. Boring? Probably – but that comes with being a motorsport fan. When they release an F1 title for this console, I’ll be first in line for it. Need for Speed: Rivals is a pretty fun game which is stunning to look at (and that’s just the cars) and very easy to play. Two very quick intros at the start give you the basics of playing as a racer and a cop. You can switch between the two at any point and with a number of challenges, modes and things to unlock there’s plenty to keep you busy.
I crash a lot on this game. I’d rather pick a slower car with better handling, although it doesn’t help much, to give myself the best chance. The crashes can be spectacular though. What does get me is that while it’s fun to play offline on your own, the open world concept that lets you race against anyone (AI or player) at any time. This is the default setting.

Battlefield 4

I have to admit, FPS titles such as Battlefield or Call of Dutynever really appealed to me – there was nothing wrong with them, I just prefer fantasy/sci-fi stuff if given the choice, and there are some great sci-fi shooters which I usually end up playing more. Once again, this game looked stunning. I was literally on the edge of my seat throughout as I tried to work out what was happening and where and who and what weapon I should use and who was shooting me and where my team was. If you are familiar with the genre, and probably previous titles of this series, you might be fine. Otherwise, it can be a little overwhelming at first.
Saying that, I couldn’t stop playing for hours, no matter how hungry I got. If it can keep me like that, and I’m not the biggest FPS fan, then it’s probably a good shout. I prefer the genre of Killzone: Shadow Fall, but Battlefield 4 plays just as well and I’m more invested to the story and team right now. However, the touchpad use is even more limited on this title, which is a shame.

Summary

This probably goes without saying but I’m generally impressed so far. Having to pay for PlayStation Plus is a bit annoying but something that will probably come good over time. This console is definitely geared to gamers so far and the only thing I’m worried about is hard drive space. We’ll see how that pans out in the future but it’s been a very good weekend and no issues whatsoever so far!

No. 3 – Final Fantasy VI

Of all the Final Fantasy titles I’ve played, which is most of them given an international release on some platform, I enjoyed VI a lot. It has to be said that my top 3 were very close together and I’ve had to really pick at things I really found annoying to differentiate them.
One thing that really stood out to me from this title was the story/narrative/plot – whatever you want to call it. As a writer, I choose story and FFVI has the best story out of all the games in the series. The characters are diverse, and this title features the most playable characters in any of the numbered titles – and quite possibly any Final Fantasy game, but I am open to information showing otherwise – with fourteen characters that are available throughout most, if not all, of the game and several secondary characters that make regular appearances.
The inclusion of so many characters gives the player a chance to experience a deep, thoughtful and complex story that will take you from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other – and it really doesn’t disappoint. I enjoy the replay factor of this game almost purely for the story, which is expertly crafted. Some characters could be left out or replaced with large parts for others but the balance is very good and if you haven’t played FFVI, I’d recommend it just for this.
However, that’s not all!
Compared to modern games, the graphics are outdated – how I prefer the term ‘classic,’ ‘retro’ or ‘vintage.’ Different people use their own terms but whatever you call it, this is a blast from the past – and it doesn’t look half bad. Every so often, it’s nice to see where our games have come from. The artwork is still popular online today and that makes it an enjoyable experience.
Most importantly, as with many older games, I found this one of the most challenging titles to complete. It was a much longer and more expansive world and story, with a number of things to do and explore. I’m generally the kind of person who likes to explore first and complete the story later, and it has annoyed me about some games, especially more recent Final Fantasy titles (naming no names).
If I could see more, I’d love some even more challenging dungeons and boss fights. As with any game, you can find ways to make yourself almost unbeatable with the right team and abilities. Options to fight more powerful bosses that rely on you being at this level would be quite fun…or maybe I’m just asking for trouble? Both are equally possible.
Having seen the poor voiceovers as well as the “good” ones, I’d always pick the original version over any remake – don’t get me wrong, I’d buy and play a remake if it came around – purely because I have a lot of memories. What I enjoy about it is also why VI ranks only at number three. It’s a bit confusing at first, the tutorials aren’t that great and the world is very overwhelming at first. On replays, this is actually quite nice because I already know but it makes it more daunting to get to grips with on the first try. It’s also something that subsequent titles learnt straight away.
The fact that I still own a PlayStation copy of FFVI is a testament to how much I love this game. I am working on actually getting a PlayStation again at some point too, or at least a PS2.

No. 4 – Final Fantasy IV

I haven’t played Final Fantasy IV for a long time but it was always one of my favourites. I was too young for the original release on the SNES, but I did find it on for the PlayStation as part of the Final Fantasy Anthology containing the fourth and fifth numbered titles.
I remember the game well. Other games at the time, and while you can call the graphics and sprites of FFIVclassic or retro, they weren’t up to par with other games at the time. That has never been a problem for me – if a game looks great, then that’s an added bonus but it’s not the main thing I look for. Despite this, it is recognisably Final Fantasy, and that was enough for me.
The music in FFIV is probably some of my favourite scores from any game in the series. While there isn’t the same clarity as recent releases, it does still draw quite a lot of emotion and it matches up with the story perfectly. The music has been reworked multiple times over the years as new versions of this game are released – and that’s got to give you an indication of the popularity and how good this game actually is.
No? Well, keep reading.
FFIV is not the most popular or well-known game of the series, but for many people, it offered a first in many aspects of what we consider to be a staple or classic feature of RPG’s. It was released in a different order to other games in the series which had an impact on this, but there are a range of characters to choose from with set job classes, and it brought in more tactical thinking.
The story – which I could write over 3000 words on, so I won’t – is also fantastic. I’ll go so far and say it is one of the better narratives of every Final Fantasy title. It brought the characters to life with very complex issues that still hold up today, but were even more relevant at the original time of release. Play the game and do some research; you’ll see what I mean. The depth and character development are brilliant even by today’s standards, and there is excellent replay value in this title.
The only big downside to the game was the length. Give the release date of the title, I’m not surprised and it was actually quite long back then, but there’s more to the story than what we see in the game, I’m sure and I’d love a version that lasts as long as a current title does.

What’s new?

An updated version of FFIV was released for the Nintendo DS and later for mobile platforms that took advantage of more powerful systems and graphics capabilities to bring this game to life. That is the biggest change of all, how it looked, and it was worth it. Again, compare it to nextgen capabilities, or even late PS3 or Xbox 360 titles, and you would never be fooled at all, of course, but it is a massive improvement and brings a lot more charm and life to the game.
With the number of characters that come and go, one update was being able to take the abilities of these characters and give them to permanent ones. While this is more fun, it does make the game easier – and it wasn’t the hardest game to begin with – but you can get some pretty good abilities and become unstoppable although new difficulty settings were included for more of a challenge. Finally, voice acting was included but, much like it is with many English versions of this series, it was disappointing, this time even more so, with the acting detracting from the dialogue and story of the game. Only the music remains the saving grace in these situations.
If you see it for a handheld or mobile device you own, or find it on the PlayStation Network – buy it right there! You won’t want to miss out on this fantastic game, whether it’s the original classic or the updated version. Trust me on this.