By SarcasmancerSarcasmancer
23 Jun 2009 12:42

Final Fantasy VII vs. Final Fantasy IX


With excitement mounting for Final Fantasy XIII (Lightning has invaded our title banner!), it seems appropriate to examine the long running series’ highest and low points. I could approach this discussion in my usual formal manner, but BlueZero recently remarked that for a biased video game blog, our site could use a little more bias, so I’m going to take a sharp turn down the perilous path of personal opinion. Sit back, buckle up and enjoy the ride cupcake; You're in for one hell of a rant.

Final Fantasy VII is the best game in the series and Final Fantasy IX is the suck. Not the suckiest game in the series, or a game that sucks, it epitomizes suck. I refuse to acknowledge it as anything more than a super-deformed mistake. To me, Final Fantasy X-2 is a more legitimate member of the series. Yes. The Charlie's Angel abomination that totally breaks the tone of it's predecessor is still better in my book, than Final Fantasy IX. I've got a couple good reasons why, but the most obvious one is still the most important: It's a matter of mood. I tremendously prefer dark and angsty (FFVII) to nostalgic and whimsical (FFIX) because I find the former atmosphere produces far more interesting stories. Whimsy tends to be pithy and nostalgia draws upon the familiar (under the pretense of having universal appeal) as opposed to presenting audiences with something new. Angst can be mellow-dramatic and adolescent, but those traits tend to gel well with the convoluted nature of fanciful worlds. As long as you keep a healthy sense of humor (and Final Fantasy VII totally does), there's no harm in getting grave now and again as well.


Admittedly, the biggest factor in my preference for one title over the other is 'skin deep,' in the sense that it primarily boils down to aesthetics. Tetsuya Nomura's character designs for Final Fantasy VII may seem generic now, but that's only because they have been so tremendously influential. Giant swords and spiky hair were groundbreaking character additions when FFVII first launched. No seriously, each character is dripping with detail and glowing with awesome. Cloud has grown to be one of the most celebrated icons of video gaming. Sephiroth has become the character template for scores of villains by now, including Final Fantasy IX's horribly lame Kuja (Why yes, I think he is wearing a thong). Contrary to popular misconception, Vincent is not a vampire or emo, but a genuine goth who just decided to become an immortal badass. Mr. T originally tried out for the role of Barret, but found himself to be too much of a Foo for the part. Cid managed to make chauvinism, smoking and swearing seem fresh again. Red XIII is a talking flame wolf; nuff said. And of course, the ladies… Tifa and Aeris still present players with the most intriguing and appealing love triangle I have yet to encounter in video games. Admittedly, Yuffie and Cait-sith can be a bit annoying, but they brought a little lightheartedness to a cast that would have been way to serious otherwise.


By contrast, the cast of Final Fantasy IX looks like a collection of super-deformed precious moments dolls. If Zidane's 'flamboyant' outfit doesn't prevent you from taking him seriously, his random monkey tail will (The plot might explain why it's there, but it doesn't justify it's idiocy). One can't consider Garnet as an appealing romantic lead without feeling like a pedophile because of the strange huge-head + petite body proportions. I may be showing my cold steel robot colors here, but I have to tell you that Vivi, the supposed heart and soul of the game's story, evoked nothing but annoyance in me. Yeah, even his tearjerker fate. Decrease the surplus population and all that. Freya was mildly compelling, but all of the other characters don't even really warrant a mention as far as I'm concerned.

My superficiality acknowledged, there is a deeper reason behind my devotion to FFVII (and my hatred for FFIX), and I've spent several sleepless nights trying to articulate it. Mostly it boils down to how I view the Final Fantasy franchise as a whole, or rather, how I view it as a Not-whole. You see, Final Fantasy games can be grouped into two major series. The first one runs from episodes I-V. Each game utilizes some variant of a class-based party system for battle, and a “save the crystals-save the world” sort of story. There were some variations, but the world felt largely the same from one installment to another. For my part, I think FFIV was the best game from the first batch, seeing how it had the most memorable characters and my favorite line of horribly mistranslated video game dialogue, ever.

Final Fantasy VI marked a profound turning point for the game. The technical jump from 8 to 16-bits made for some of the sweetest tunes ever to grace gaming and allowed designers to create a much more detailed, distinctive world than those in previous entries. The use of steam-punk aesthetics was particularly ahead of its time, and helped set the game apart from other fantasy role-playing games. Stunningly, these aesthetic and technical advances helped improve the narrative rather than stifling it. The inclusion of technology and the overall shift from pure fantasy to fantasy/sci-fi did not only open the door to a whole new host of enemy types and character abilities, it allowed story tellers to address new themes (experimentation, arms-races). Some people say it's the best Final Fantasy ever, and that is a position I can respect, even though I disagree with it. In the end, Cloud is just too damn awesome to settle for second place. I see me trying to hand the first place meddle to Locke or Terra, only to have him mow me down on a motorcycle and have the entire cast of FFVI defect to his cause on account of sheer awesome.

Anyway, what I was trying to convey with my "Final Fantasy = two separate series" digression is that after Final Fantasy VI, the franchise evolved into something more than a generic fantasy RPG series (yeah, I typed it). It became a game series about innovation, not only in game play and graphics, but narrative, and Final Fantasy VII's original story, broken and messed up as it is captures that risk-taking spirit beautifully using time honored literary techniques such as amnesia, cross-dressing and motorcycle chases. In all seriousness though, the story had a compelling flow to it that managed to thread together the disparate locales and absurd side-quests characters undertook to save the planet and track down the nefarious Sephiroth. A couple of gamers were turned off by the Sci-Fi-ification Midgar represented, and others felt that the new Materia combat system dissolved the individuality of party members. While it is possible to create a party of heroes with identical abilities, it is just as possible to re-create the classic ‘class’ archetypes using unique Materia-combinations, and to create brand new ones all together. Giving Barret Jump materia amused me to no end. He was like a proto-Demoman!

As a sidebar, it's worth mentioning that Final Fantasy VIII continued the tradition of innovation, or at least put in a solid effort. The game’s novel, (but ultimately unsatisfying) approach to combat forces every character to partially fulfill the archetypal roles of warrior, thief, mage, and summoner by stealing and junctioning magic. It also continued to ramp up the Sci-fi aspect of the game, though to less effect than it's predecessors. The trend had already been established.

In contrast, Final Fantasy IX is a return to ‘pure’ fantasy; the sort of conceptual regression which really strikes me as a huge step backwards. I realize that the game is supposed to be a love letter to long time fans of games from 'the first series,' but it's a love letter scrawled in crayon on construction paper. That would be adorable coming from a child, and appropriate if it were addressed to a child, but for a maturing audience, it just struck me as a slap in the face. Keep in mind, I am not opposed to Final Fantasy revisiting it's roots. I //heartily// endorse this, for instance. And frankly, I think it would be a great endeavor for Square to try and remake it's classical games from the ground up. The anthology collections they did a few years back were great, but the remakes they've been doing for the past couple years are really inspiring.

Ironically, I think that Final Fantasy VII deserves a bit of a rest considering what the various spin-offs and prequels have done to it's plot. The majority of the compilation is enjoyable, but like Shihnong states in his review of Advent Children: Complete, it's completely unintelligible. In some cases, it cheapens or even complicates the existing story line, which was far from airtight to begin with. Advent Children in particular also adds credence to the misconception that Cloud is incredibly Emo, when in the original game he was just incredibly cool. He initially acts distant towards party members, and he's a little self-absorbed, but at the same time he's willing to crack jokes, and despite loosing Aeris, he's the first to state that the party needs to move on so they can stop Sephiroth.

That being said, I would not object to the oft-rumored remake of Final Fantasy VII that has been whispered about ever since Sony showed off that PS3 Tech Demo a couple years ago. I just hope they don't do anything else to mess with cannon.

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