FFIX Versus Itself – Part 2

Last time on Dragon Ball Z FF9 Versus, I talked about the opening minutes of the game, and mostly made a fool of myself.

The story so far: There’s a girl in a castle in a town on a lake on a cliff, and a monkey-tailed boy in an airship. The boy is named Zidane, and he likes hanging out in unlit rooms.

ff9-002

Now that’s a kingdom to live in.

Okay, this time, we’re going to see significantly more unfold. I hope, anyways. I might just get on a roll about a single screen that’s probably insignificant in the grand scheme of the game (as much as the first playable moments can be insignificant in any game, I guess).

Before lighting the candle (I know, I just can’t get past this point), the game does (potentially) one thing that I absolutely love: if you walk up to something that you can interact with, a cute icon appears above your head. This is not only a huge step up from eight games where you have to blindly walk up to and mash X (or O, depending on the inputs) on every surface. Now, you can run about and double back when an icon catches your attention. It really streamlines the random item searching process.

Now it is finally time: you light the candle and move in to the entire rest of the game. Once the room is adequately lit, a group of characters hears you and barges into the room (how did they hear a candle being lit, I wonder – I just double checked, and there’s no window in the door). They’re certainly an… odd looking bunch, but I’d actually count that as a point in the game’s favour. Who doesn’t like interesting and quirky character design in a classic style RPG? (answer: if it’s you, you’re reading about the wrong game)

The screen cap may be tiny, but the quirk is clear as day.

So, after it becomes clear that everyone is waiting for the boss, a man with a dragon head bursts into the room, and it’s time to fight! For a fun little twist rather than only controlling Zidane, the only permanent member of the group, you get to control all four of the characters in a fight against dragon-head. This serves one excellent purpose, and completely misses the opportunity to serve another.

The good: the first fight of FF9 marks a return to the days of the classics. You have four party members at once. For players of FF1-5 and 6, this is very exciting. It marks a clear departure from the other PS era FF games (7 and 8) while hearkening back to the standard.

The mistake: the first fight is an amazing opportunity to showcase the technical aspects of FF9’s battle system, as well as the game mechanic aspects. Instead of doing that, you get four characters that can Attack (yeah, their animations are fun, but you’ll be seeing the attack animations of your party for 90% of your battle actions), Steal (not exactly a cool looking skill, and certainly not something that gives you a chance to experiment with the combat powers you’ll be using for the rest of the game), and Item (nuff said). Zidane has one additional power: the Skill Flee, which is utterly useless. The game could have given you a rounded party with a variety of skills to experiment with in a no stress environment, and it is a complete miss on that wonderful chance.

To be fair to the game, giving you a party composed entirely of thieves does do something that hasn’t happened in battle in FF7 or 8 (outside of extremely rare specials). It shows narrative information through battle mechanics. FF7 had hints of this in the Kalm flashback, but this is plain as day narrative information delivered by playing the game rather than reading a text box. And I don’t know about you, but that makes me very, very excited. This is a big step in an awesome direction,¬†and it bodes well for the entire FF9 experience (spoilers, you really get a feel for who your characters are through both dialogue and gameplay, and it’s beautiful).

Should I Steal? Maybe I’ll Steal. Maybe everyone will Steal.

The narrative information that this battle reveals probably isn’t as exciting as I’m getting about it; the characters you get to control in the first battle are some sort of band of thieves. Sorry, I just got so excited about meaningful combat design, I got carried away.

After a few attacks (you can steal a couple of items if you like, but it’s far from essential, and certainly doesn’t need four dedicated thieves to do it), the dragon head breaks, and the enemy is revealed to be the boss the group was waiting for. The battle over, the group heads into another room for a meeting.

And now it’s time to get on with it.

Okay, I got caught up again. I want each of these posts to be digestible, rather than unapproachable mountains. So, lets wrap it up for now.

Next time on FF Versus!: a tiny bit of story, and a story about a tiny black mage.

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