Over the past couple weeks I've been putting time into two of the more derided older Final Fantasy games. Both of these appear to be a traditional experience on the surface, but function so differently under the hood that they turned many fans off. Because this radical experimentation started as far back as the second game in the series, I have learned to be more comfortable when Final Fantasy significantly changes things. We might not always like them, but drastic changes are not without precedent. Let's take a look back at two of the black sheep of the Final Fantasy family. For those keeping track, after this piece there is only one game left in the main series to touch.
If you want to catch up on my prior pieces, here's a link to Issue 35 from two weeks back.
Final Fantasy VIII (PS1 Classic via PSP)
Back when I first played Final Fantasy VIII, I ignored the finer details of the tutorials, after all I'd played plenty of RPGs so I was sure it was just the typical nonsense for newcomers. Drawing magic and junctioning it wasn't complicated to do, but if you didn't really dig deeper, the critical points of why you were doing these things were lost. I tried playing the game like a standard RPG and hated it, thinking it was very unbalanced. Just a few years ago I finally replayed this with an actual understanding of the systems and enjoyed it quite a bit more.
Starting it up again, I found myself quickly caught up in what a good first impression this game gives. The intro, complete with "Liberi Fatali," is still one of the most impressive intro scenes in the series for me. While there are a lot of things to get distracted by during the first section in the Garden, most of it is optional, and it's easy to get right to the action. Combat is where FFVIII really differs from the rest, as players are rewarded for not leveling up and instead building their characters through drawing and junctioning magic to boost their stats. This requires a bit of an upfront investment, but pays off by making things flow smoother further in and being able to avoid random encounter for most of the game. In my time replaying this, I finished the Fire Cavern and the Dollet Mission, and it reminded how well paced this game starts out. While things slow down eventually, it was surprising to find myself sucked back in as quickly as I was, especially for a game that is considered such a black sheep.
Final Fantasy II (PSP)
The other black sheep of the family is Final Fantasy II, a game hated by many, but one that I've found more affection for the more often I play it. Much like FFVIII, it requires an investment upfront that is even harder to justify here, but eventually makes the game easier to get through. My play session this time was much shorter, as I only made it out of the first town and started the process of beating my characters to buff them up. While I appreciate the creativity this game offers considering when it was originally developed, I have to be in a mood to play this and after finishing this one three other times, that mood is not hitting me right now. That aside, I have to take every chance I can to mention my love for the PSP sprites as they are still so lovely.