My first D&D experience was confusing at times, but solid. While the openness and free-form play can be daunting at times, it’s clearly a unique experience that I feel everyone should at least try. There really is nothing else like it.
I was DM again, which I’m OK with for the moment, though I desperately want to play a character soon. This time it was with Pathfinder rules (available at a gigantic discount from the Humble Bundle people for another three days…jump on it, it’s a huge value!), which weren’t terribly different from 5th edition, at least in the very small frame of reference I have. However, it was with a different group of people, with a different level of experience and dedication. Two of the other players had actually created back stories, and all three players had known each other very well, which boosted interaction greatly and made things much looser overall.
(Note: this isn’t slighting the first group, but really, the four of us that played last night have been friends for a very, very long time. Hard to stack up to that level of familiarity.)
We rolled new characters instead of using pre-generated ones, but did use the beginner dungeon to get our feet wet. Luckily the documentation made my job as DM pretty simple, which allowed me to be creative and relaxed while corralling the adventure as best I could. Everything was pretty great, and here it truly showed how awesome D&D could be.
I kind of resent myself for taking this long to try and experience it.
Anyways, we surely messed up some of the rules (I think combat math is still going to take some time to remember every time), and we didn’t quite finish the entire adventure as we had to call it around 2AM. However, it’s an experience we will surely continue, and I hope to write more about it when we do.
I just realized this sounds like a love letter to not just D&D, but the friends I played it with last night. I suppose it is.
So my board game night people decided to do D&D. While I know a good deal about D&D rules (from plumbing the depths of old D&D video games for how they all work) and have roleplayed a bit in the past in other venues (just not D&D), this is something I’ve wanted to try for a long time.
Because organizationally it was easiest, I was to be DM for our maiden voyage.
As a reference, we had one person who had played a few campaigns, another two who had played once or twice, and then myself and my wife who had never played.
We decided to play 5th edition, mainly because it was the easiest to find resources for, and most opinions online were very positive (for those who had tried it; many people still stick to 3.5, Pathfinder, and some version of 2E as well, from my understanding).
Anyways, we forged ahead with what more or less amounted to the starter set: pre-generated characters (halfling rogue, high elf wizard, human fighter, dwarf cleric) and the Lost Mines of Phandelver starter campaign.
Sadly, I was not as organized as I would have liked going in; I had intended to cull my resources the night and morning before, but real life decided to make that difficult, so my running of the campaign left a bit to be desired, since I had to stop and look stuff up from time to time instead of having it all prepared.
However, everyone had a blast, and I think I did a good job of DMing as far as keeping things going, and presenting the setting. No one was confused as to their options, and I felt I played the different NPC characters rather well. There were already some pretty memorable moments of silliness.
Also, RNGesus decided to pay a visit. There was a bandit fight that had two critical misses and three critical hits. One exchange involved the wizard getting 20’d and one-shot by a bandit, then the bandit on the ensuing turn critically missing, which I interpreted as him tripping over the wizard’s corpse and accidentally head-shotting himself with his short-sword. That was fun, because it let the dead wizard feel at least somewhat useful, in death.
I think we’ll be continuing with this week-to-week, and I can’t wait. I don’t think DMing is something I always want to do, but I certainly don’t have a problem with it, and I think I’m pretty decent at it. Just need to get more organized and learn the rules a bit more.
I have this strange relationship with the Baldur’s Gate series. Actually, this applies to the whole Infinity engine family of games; BG, Icewind Dale 1&2, and Planescape Torment. But we’ll focus on Baldur’s Gate here first.
I got Baldur’s Gate as a random present from one of my mom’s friends wayyyyy back in 1998. I was immediately hooked; it was only the second game I had ever played that gave me so many choices (the other was Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar for the NES). It was top-down, which allowed for incredible strategic elements. It had dialogue choices that meant something. It had humor, seriousness, epicness. It had it all.
Baldur’s Gate 2 was just a continuation, but stacking complex high-level spell combat on top of the already wonderful freedom and storytelling. It also had one of the best villains in video game history, Jon Irenicus, who was voice-acted tremendously by David Warner.
I consider both of those games heavily influential on my gaming tastes. I consider them both among the best PC games ever made, if not among the best games ever made, regardless of system.
I’ve never beaten either of them. This is baffling.
I’ve certainly found it harder in recent years to complete games. I often reach a point where I go “I get it” and put a game down, regardless of where I am. I never beat Final Fantasy 9, despite getting to the final area. I did the same with Final Fantasy 13 (though didn’t get quite as far, but I did get to the point where the game opened up). I’ve done it with a few Ultima games. And I did it with BG and BG2.
I’m not sure if they’re too long or what, but I have just never finished them. I certainly got quite far into BG1, but never beat it, nor did any of the expansion content. I got somewhat far in BG2 in the sidequests, but never advanced the main storyline past breaking into Spellhold, which is barely halfway, I think.
I’m currently trying to do a full playthrough of both, starting a character in BG: Enchanced Edition, play through it all plus the expansion content, then import the character into BG2 and do the same there. I doubt I’ll make it, if previous attempts inform future actions.
I think it might be the combat. It can range from mundane to ruthless, and I don’t think I like either. I feel that my time is wasted with a fight with a few kobolds, but then my time is wasted when staring down a Beholder and six Yuan-Ti mages, which is pretty tough.
Or it might be all the freedom. I often restart the game multiple times since I can’t decide which class to play. I’ve found in other games that I can be paralyzed by choice, and end up putting the game down rather than settle on a certain race, class, or playstyle.
I had a startling thought just now. Maybe I just want to play actual table-top D&D.
Luckily, I’ll be doing that this weekend. I’ll write on that as well.
Clearly I have an obsession with the Final Fantasy series, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise. They were extremely important to me in my pre-teen and teenage years, and at one point it was the most popular RPG series in the land. Final Fantasy 7 practically won a console war for Sony. It’s a bit of a big deal.
What’s interesting to me, though, is that there’s a decent case to be made that every major console that a Final Fantasy game has been on, it hasn’t had the best RPG for that system.
NOTE: This is from an American perspective, so Final Fantasy 2, 3, and 5 aren’t counted here, though I don’t think any of those would have been in any running for “best RPG of X console.”
NES: Final Fantasy 1 was a fantastic game, though I personally feel that it’s not even a top-3 RPG on the system.
Dragon Warrior 3 and 4 are the best two RPGs for that system. They’re longer, have better stories, better characters, and were superior in graphics and audio. That last part isn’t surprising, since they came out later, but the point still stands.
Lesser-known RPG Destiny of an Emperor is an excellent RPG that I feel barely edges out Final Fantasy. If you haven’t heard of it, give it a try.
Ultima: Quest of the Avatar is a brilliant open-ended game with deep strategic combat and a sprawling world to explore.
SNES: Final Fantasy 4 and 6 are extraordinary games. Final Fantasy 6 is my favorite of the series. However…
Chrono Trigger is a masterpiece. It’s about as close to a perfect game as most games get.
Secret of Mana was revolutionary in its gameplay, specifically in its multiplayer features.
Earthbound. Don’t need any more words than that.
PSX: Final Fantasy 7 needs no introduction. Final Fantasy is largely considered a misstep, while 9 was a return to form. I think FF7 is probably the best RPG on the PSX, thus busting up my theory, but some contrarian arguments:
Breath of Fire 3.
MOTHER FUCKING XENOGEARS
PS2: Final Fantasy 10, 10-2 and 12 (we’re not counting the MMO 11) are all great entries into the series. I think 10 might be the best on the console (horrible voice acting notwithstanding…and I’m playing through 12 now, so this might change). But there’s a gaggle of other great entries:
The entire Shin Migami series
Kingdom Hearts series
Tales of Symphonia
PS3/XBox360: Final Fantasy 13 and 13-2 are tepid games at best, both plagued by iffy characters and slow plots. It’s not hard to find RPGs that could be/are better:
Elder Scrolls series
Dragon Age series
It’s not to say that the Final Fantasy series is bad, but with the increase of the video games industry as a whole (and the playerbase being far different as a result), things have changed. Final Fantasy just isn’t the showstopping series it once was. This is OK. Hopefully things go in one of two directions:
Final Fantasy reinvents itself in new, exciting ways
Square-Enix caters to the niche that simply wants more old-school style JRPGs, and works to refresh that formula in new, exciting ways.
As an aside, I feel that FF13 was a step in that “new, exciting way” direction, but the fact that the entire cast of characters were cunts (save for one) hurt that game to a great degree.
Yeah, so I’m giving initial thoughts on a game that’s 10 years old. I spend my time very wisely.
Anyways, I’ve put a few hours in, and while there’s a whole lot more game to get to, I have some words.
I love the political intrigue. Some might find all the exposition tiring, but it’s well-presented and makes sense. Not all Final Fantasy plots achieve that, so I’ll take a barrage of words if it’s effective.
The license system feels like the Sphere Grid from FF10, except a big more digestable. This is a good thing.
Combat is actually pretty solid so far. It was a brave decision to move away from the tried and true “noise, flash, battle screen” format, but the seamless action is welcome and well-executed. We’ll see if it holds up as things get more complicated (more characters/abilities/etc).
Vaan is pretty much anime Aladdin, though a bit less interesting on first blush. I think I may find him irritating. Though he can’t be worse than Tidus, right? Right?
The game is very pretty, even at 10 years old. This should come as no surprise considering Square Enix’s regular commitment to graphics, but it’s worth mentioning that 12 is specifically gorgeous, more so than any other FF. That is high praise.
I adore the sountrack, which makes sense. It is not done by series stalwart Nobuo Uematsu, but it was done by Final Fantasy Tactics composer Hitoshi Sakimoto. His style is evident, and is wonderful.
One major gripe: the right analog stick is used to look around, and it uses a “flipped” scheme for both directions. It’s not awkward holding up to look down or down to look up, but holding right to look left and vice versa is awkward. And you can’t change it. Normally this is the kind of bullshit that I will simply stop playing a game over, but I’m going to push through because otherwise I’m having a pretty good time.
I probably won’t have any more thoughts until I either finish or stop playing the game. So far I would bet on me finishing it though, but I wouldn’t underestimate the possibility for bullshit midway through a FF game. We’ll see.
I picked up Chaos Reborn (50% off on Steam!), and I played it for hours last night. You’re all lucky that I’m taking time away to write this, only because I just want to play it more. There are many people who play this game, but they made specifically for me, of that I am convinced.
So you’re a wizard, casting spells, summoning monsters. It’s more complicated than that, of course, but the greatness of this game is that its complexity is only in the layers of strategy, not by how confusing any individual layer is.
Example: the game suggests an amount of tutorials that are wonderfully done. They essentially introduce you to each of the game’s mechanics one by one, until the meaty strategic tapestry is complete. Every mechanic is devilishly simple, but they come together into a symphony of strategy.
I’m gushing. It’s OK. I really love this game.
Some quick observations:
The “bluffing” effect of Illusions is a masterful way to make PvP/multiplayer interesting. In essence, summoning a creature as an illusion guarantees success (most spells have a 40-60% chance of actually succeeding, so this is important), and an Illusion will act as a real monster (and be as lethal). However, the enemy wizard can use a Disbelieve spell to instantly dispel an Illusion, and they get an extra spell that turn on top of it. However, Disbelieving a real creature effectively wastes their turn. Again, this is all about risk management.
The game’s mana system isn’t a direct resource, but more a risk mitigation tool. Mana is used to increase the chances of an individual spell. Obviously this can be powerful, as a legitimately summoned nasty monster usually gives the extra bonus of the opponent trying to Disbelieve it, on top of being nasty. However, Mana is very finite, and the most powerful creatures/spells still can’t be bumped up to 100%.
There’s a Chaos/Order system that makes for more interest. Essentially, casting Chaos spells will increase the chances of subsequent Chaos spells (for both wizards). However, Order does the same thing, and one affects the other. Neutral spells are completely unaffected by this.
There are three equipment types that affect your wizard as well; staff, robes, runes. Your staff gives some stats and defines what your “megaspell” is. Robes provide further bonuses, and can influence what your deck looks like (decks are randomized in this game). Then both the staff and robes have rune slots, where you can equip passive abilities, or runes that provide a consumable ability. All very simple.
The true beauty of this game is that is practically defines “synergy.” All these different simple systems coalesce into this wondrously deep experience. Every choice has multiple consequences, but it’s not so in-depth that it’s overwhelming.
There’s even a campaign mode that somewhat reminds me of Heroes of Might and Magic, which is always a welcome influence.
Final Fantasy 10, I’ve found, is probably the most polarizing entry into the series. There’s a lot of obvious reasons for this. It’s polarizing because it does a lot right, and a lot not right. I feel I’ve made my point.
I know it’s cliche, but there’s enough meat on the bone here to do a pros/cons list.
Sleek battle system that allows for instant character change. Interesting abilities. You can control summons. Repeat: you can control summons.
That same battle system can feel very grindy, and once you discover that a character only gains experience if they perform a battle action, battles devolve into “make sure every character gets a hit in,” which is really annoying.
The overall presentation is pretty wonderful. Graphics are great, battle animations are satisfying, the music is top-notch as always, and the dialogue is reasonably written.
The voice acting is pretty terrible. Lots of awkward pauses, overreactions, deadpan lines; it’s almost a trainwreck. It gets a slight pass for being one of the first fully voice-acted games, but it’s really brutal at times.
The Sphere Grid is probably one of the best character leveling systems ever created, only barely edged out by the Materia system in FF7.
The Sphere Grid turns some off with its complexity, and it can bend your brain if you stare at it too long.
The cast of characters is rather great; Auron is mysterious, Yuna is stubbornly optimistic, Wakka is fun, the list goes on.
Tidus might be the worst main character in a Final Fantasy game, ever. Honestly, the best way to deal with this is to pretend Yuna is the main character (she sort of is, really), and pretend Tidus is just an idiot that the camera happens to follow.
The plot is actually pretty great, if a bit convoluted.
It bears repeating: Tidus might be the worst main character in a Final Fantasy game.
Blitzball is a very interesting diversion within the game.
Whoever thought underwater turn-based soccer was a good idea should probably be punched. In the heart.
OK, that was long, but that’s the point. There’s a laundry list of compliments and complaints to give Final Fantasy 10. I think the positives outweigh the negatives overall, and if you can get past the off-putting awkwardness of the voice acting, it can be a pretty great experience. Also, the Jecht boss fight music is ridiculous, and totally worth it.
One final thought: not being able to control the airship is blasphemy.
At this point, because this series is weird, I had finally gotten a chance to play Final Fantasy 5. I had briefly played the PSX port, but then had a Nintendo DS for a while, and played the GBA version on it. I’ve also since emulated it and played through most of the game. I can understand why it wasn’t brought over to the USA back in the 90s.
I had high hopes, as I knew FF5 had the acclaimed job system in place, and I enjoyed the hell out of it in Final Fantasy Tactics. However, I found it a bit clunky and much less interesting when applied to the typical Final Fantasy battle system. The game in effect had wild difficulty swings without warning, where there were fights that were just plain hard, but others that felt hilariously easy due to a single job choice.
The main character, Bartz (or Butts, or whatever), is largely uninteresting. The others are rather compelling however, but that doesn’t help a largely cliche story. It’s the typical fare of elemental crystals, and someone/something trying to disrupt/destroy/conquer the world. There is a large plot twist in the second half, but I had already experienced a similar twist in FF6 that was frankly far better executed and compelling.
Also, X-Death is probably the series’ worst villain, but in name and in practice. He seems like a far less interesting Kefka. Maybe Kefka is just an evolution of X-Death. In any event, he’s not terribly great.
One final thought on 5: while the graphics and sound appear to be in the middle of 4 and 6 (as one would guess), they don’t appear as polished as either game. The music is great at points, and strange in others. Sound effects aren’t bad, but aren’t nice and crisp like the others. And graphically, it’s “better” than 4, but not as appealing.
I’d still recommend it to series fans, but not as highly as most. Still a solid game, but not great, and maybe barely good.
At this point, I don’t feel I have played enough of any other Final Fantasy game to render a reasonable opinion. I have tried both 2 and 3, but never got much into them. I haven’t gotten to 12 yet, but probably will someday soon. I played through good chunks of 13, but don’t even really care to talk about it, as it was largely underwhelming and slow (oh, so slow). 11 and 14 were MMORPGs, and that’s a totally different genre and discussion. And I haven’t played any of the “sequels”; FF4: The After Years, FF X-2, or any of the Dissidia games, so I can’t really offer opinions as of yet. I do plan to play X-2 though, eventually.
What was the point of all this? Nothing really, just to reflect on an iconic series of games, and their effect on many and mine’s gaming tastes and influences.
Wait, there is one point. This game is probably better than all of them. Except Tactics.