|Last year was without a doubt
the best year in the history of gaming for RPG fans. Between FFVIII, Lunar, Legaia, Gran
Stream (and a host of other solid titles) I spent most of the year fighting random
monsters, buying potions, and swearing at bosses. The aforementioned recent RPGs seem to
represent a trend toward assimilating features of other genres (3D polygons, real-time
fighting, etc) in an effort to bring the most conservative of gaming niches up to date.
But for me there is something inexplicably captivating about 2D superdeformed sprites who
are constantly running in place regardless of what is going on around them, and level
designs that challenge only your tolerance for repetitive fighting. And, oh yeah, those
black mages with the pointy hats
you know the ones
Final Fantasy Anthology brings two of the most classic 16-bit era SquareSoft RPGs to the PSX platform for the first timeFFV (never before released in America), and FFVI (more familiar to most of us as FFIII on the SNES). The conversions feature slightly enhanced graphics, but play largely like a 16-bit port should. Although the in-game graphics remain mostly untouched, the most notable additions are the excellent FMVs that frame the stories, and add a little to the overall plot.
FFVI places you in the role of [insert your name here], who is (in much the same fashion as Cloud) initially a pawn of the great MagiTek world-destroying conglomerate, with a faulty memory, a not so subtle savior-like destiny, and a proclivity toward doing things that you yourself wouldnt do during cut-scenes. As the game progresses, of course, you pick up additional characters, all of which you will recognize in slightly veiled forms from the other FF games (Gau who has monster abilities, the Moogles, the airship captain, the ninjayou know the roster).
The fighting system is similar enough to FFVII that it is the obvious predecessorwith character specific specials that function a lot like limit breaks, and "espers" that resonate of "materia". The game is long, intricate, and at times beautifully done (enough to make you forget the software limitations). The spells, while not as spectacular as later editions, are satisfying in their own quirky little way, and the backgrounds are often incredible (the ghost train, the haunted forest, etc.). If you never played this game on the SNES and you consider yourself an RPG fan, you will be doing yourself a great service if you purchase it immediately. Really. If you have played it, remember, five years is a long time, and this game has aged beautifully.
But on to my favorite, FFV. Why this game was never ported to an American platform before is beyond me, but it probably has something to do with the fact that the genre was not particularly popular in the early nineties; at least, not to the degree it is now. If the only exposure you have had the this little masterpiece was the Japanese ROM for the SNES Emulator, than you will be happy to know that the story does make (slightly) more sense in English. You are [NAME], a wandering adventurer who gets tangled up in (again) a massive plot to save the world from the inimical hostility of an otherworldly supervillain. Through the course of this quest you accumulate the requisite assortment of companions, only, in this game they are a finite set of three: Reina the princess, Galuf the mysterious old man with (again) memory problems, and Faris, the pirate captain. You will also meet up with everyones favorite NPC, Cid, and yes, his airship.
The quote-unquote plot has you cruising around the world trying to prevent the magical Element Crystals from exploding, being attacked, and otherwise ceasing to function. Like most of the other installments in this series, you will also take part in some intergalactic travel, and a tedious desert level.
As I said earlier, you have a set party that is not open to recruitmenthowever, this limitation is made up for by what you will immediately recognize as the forerunner of Final Fantasy Tactics Job and Ability system. As you collect shards of the constantly exploding crystals (you cannot save them, after all), your characters will receive optional "Jobs" that you can select; as you gain "AB" (ability) points, you characters will gain selectable job-specific abilities that can be mixed and matched to create any number of team strategies. Again, like FFT the jobs include: Chemist, Knight, Lancer, Samurai, Ninja, Red/Black/White/Blue/Time/Summon Mages, Dancer, Mimic, (my favorite) Geomancer, and Bare (the same as Squire, basically), as well as Bard, Hunter, Trainer, and a few others that I am probably forgetting
Although the job system is, I think, perfect in theory, it gets a little bit frustrating in practice, as some abilities can take up to and including two hundred random fights to gain. In fact, this game forces you to fight more random monsters than any game in the history of the universe; but, since that is really the only flaw in the games design, its easy to look past (until you get stuck in the aforementioned tedious desert level). Also, why are Lancers always so worthless?
Anyway, FF Anthology is a must have for any RPG fan. One of the best games of last century. Highly recommended. Buy it.