Thought I'd do a bit about what my recent runthrough the Final Fantasy games has shown me.
I didn't play all of the games recently, just some of the ones I hadn't beaten. So here is a list of the games in the series I have, and their statuses. (B=Finished, U=Unfinished) Bold and Italics are ones that I played as part of the challenge.
Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls
Final Fantasy III
Final Fantasy IV
Final Fantasy V Advance
Final Fantasy VI Advance
Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VIII
Final Fantasy IX
Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy X-2
Final Fantasy XII
Final Fantasy XIII (just arrived)
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions
Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
I played through the ones above, got to the very end of Final Fantasy X and got stuck on the boss. That kind of put a halt to the finishing of the last 2 in the series, I will go back to them at some point after I play XIII which just arrived today. =D
I've found that the series doesn't necessarily evolve a whole lot. I guess you could say the series is similar to Dragon Quest in that it really doesn't want to let go of a lot of the concepts and recurring ideas. This is arguably a good and bad thing-some of the games feel way too recycled in my opinion, with more or less the same character types, summons, espers, spells, items etc all cropping up in each of the games. However, you could say that if it isn't broken, don't fix it.
The early games (I think of I through V as a group) have similarities between them, and follow the same kind of progressions of story, questing, exploring (with ships, airships, etc) and the battle systems seem all very similar in a simple oldschool turnbased way. I and II to me are very similar, III and V are similar in terms of the job system, which adds a lot of customisation to the game, and makes for hugely replayable and grindy games(in a good way). IV is maybe more like VI, but with an oldschool flavour. After those ones, I think FFVI tried to take things in a new direction, putting life into the characters, improving on the level of scripting from the older games. (IV and V had tried this, but not as effectively in my eyes) The way that VI is scripted really impressed me-the characters have nicely fleshed out back stories and personalities (amazing when you think about the number of characters, only 1 or 2 of which have little story behind them), couple that with the soundtrack(who many consider one of the best in the series, if not the best), and one of the craziest, most sadistic villains in the genre, perhaps in gaming as a whole, and you have a really incredible game. FFVI and the subsequent games all seem to have some kind of love theme somewhere in them, quite often right at the forefront, like in FFVIII, IX and X. This for me adds an immense emotional charge to the games, and is a welcome additionin terms of a recurring motif(even if they do make me cry sometimes =p)
Building upon the success of VI, the PS1 era of Final Fantasy could begin, and this is where many consider the true gems to lie. FFVII brought in cutscenes to add to the atmosphere and move the story on in ways that RPGs before that didn't. I remember playing this for the first time at my friend's house way back when it came out. I knew after that, I had to have a PS1 and this game. Something about it amazed me, this was at a time when I really hadn't played many jrpgs. I love the way that all the way through the story of VII you are constantly chasing Sephiroth, it builds the story up into a climatic final battle, to put an end to the terrible things he has done. (Like killing Aeris T_T) As for the FFVII spinoffs, well...Dirge left me a bit dissapointed, but Crisis Core really clears a lot of things up and adds to the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII very effectively through Zack as the protagonist. Many people consider VII to be among the best of the Final Fantasy games, and I am among those people. I couldn't help but be drawn into the world which is being torn apart by the Shinra Corp's exploitation of the lifestream. They paint a cold, grim futuristic environment. The characters as well, I really felt for the characters and the ordeals they go through. (Aeris is dead, time for some SNOWBOARDING) It is quite a sad tale. One flaw with the game is perhaps the translation. PSX era JRPGs are known for their poor translation of the scripts, and this is no exception ("this guy are sick"), to the extent that many people are completely put off the game, regarding it as a confusing mess. I would say that VII is slightly overrated in some cases, but still it is up there among my favourite games. =p
So this brings me on to FFVIII, which for me seems like one of the most experimental out of FFI through X (I haven't touched XII, and not enough of XIII yet to comment.) They had a lot of ideas for this one, and mashed them together. The resulting game...well..it divides opinion to say the least. It seems to be one people either love, or hate. I am somewhere in between, but I like more about it than I dislike. A lot in VIII is really unbalanced, or seems kind of broken, perhaps. Or maybe it is just easy to get through in a multitude of different ways, which I like. There are so many ways to strengthen your characters and succeed if you are able to grasp the awkward gameplay systems.
I'll be writing up a review of FFIX at some point soon as I really enjoyed it, and was planning to review all the games I played as part of my challenge. IX is one where they take things back to the roots, cliches and all, and polish everything up. It has great charm I think, memorable characters and really intriguing locations.
I've still to finish off X and XII, but will go back and give them another go after XIII at some point.
So have my feelings for this series changed at all since I've played a couple of them back to back over the past few months? Not much, I still love the series, but I think its golden age has passed. The games each person played first seem to have a special place in their memories, and it usually them that stick out among their favourites. That is probably the case for me, as I like VII and VIII, but through this, I realised there are a lot of gems in the series, especially the often overlooked VI and IX. Critics of the series might say that it really isn't very unique and doesn't change an awful lot, which is true in some cases. They might also say that the series is average for the most part compared to other JRPGs. I might agree with this some of the time as in some cases some of the battle systems and gameplay mechanics are very simple, and some of the characters and other aspects feel recycled and bland, but for me, I have had a lot of fun with the games, and I really hope that the series doesn't fall into mediocrity. Now, the interesting thought comes when you think about this, has it already fallen from grace? Is it evolving as a franchise at all? If it is, is it taking things in the right direction? I'll leave that thought there, and leave you with some lists.
Final Fantasy IX-Vivi, Freya, Steiner, most of the characters in this game I liked
Final Fantasy VII
Favourite endgame battles
Final Fantasy VI-This is just gorgeous, one of many amazing moments in FFVI
Final Fantasy VII-Climatic, dramatic and powerful. When One Winged Angel started up, I was blown away.
Final Fantasy VIII-So much unique in this game, and I really liked the idea behind the story in this one.
My 3 favourite Final Fantasy games
Final Fantasy VII (the order for these changes all the time in my mind)
Final Fantasy IX
Final Fantasy VI