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Tag: gba

“Final Fantasy” (Yeah, That First Game!) Design Choices

So I finished up Chrono Trigger about a week ago. I have written at length about it already, and am wavering on whether or not I want to write any kind of “final thoughts” on the game. I do not have much more to add to the conversation, really — nothing particularly blew me away in the final five hours or so. I did start up a New Game+ and beat it again the instant I showed up at the End of Time. For the record, I received “Ending 5” on that go-’round, which is the one with the Nu critters sleeping over top the credits. How enthralling…!

But this is not about Chrono Trigger, so now for something completely different.

I use the phrase “fall off the wagon” when I talk about Pokémon. While I am far from a super-fan (I do not EV train, and I do not follow every single last bit of news and community events), I do get pretty heavily “into” the games when I play them every few years. Back in October 2008 I wrote about my experience with the games — right now I have ~180 hours logged in FireRed and ~120 hours logged in Pearl (and maybe a negligible ~10 hours sunk into Emerald before I got bored). Other than downloading event critters at GameStop and such, I have not actually “played” any of the games in something like a year and a half, though.

Here is where the drinking analogy comes in: I pre-ordered SoulSilver.

That will be a topic for another post in the future, but it was important information to set up the rest of this post. How it relates to right now is the fact that I have a couple weeks before I pick up the game. I was looking for a shorter RPG to take up my lunch breaks in the meantime.

I decided to go with the very first Final Fantasy. I picked up the Dawn of Souls version on GameBoy Advance a few years ago, but I have never actually played the game before. I played maybe 10 minutes or so on the NES as a kid, but all I remembered was running into the castle and starting an adventure. I know the general story thanks to the GameTrailers retrospective series, but I still wanted to have a game play experience with it all on my own. It just felt like something I should probably do one day.

For those who are curious (because you know you are), my team is as follows: Mike (warrior), Julian (monk), Meri (white mage), Deluxe (black mage).

I am not here to talk about ancient design decisions from Square’s first game in a long-running franchise. To some degree, that would not be fair coming from someone like me. It certainly warrants discussion, but it is not something I am interested in doing and probably would not be able to talk about with the most authority in the world. I know some things are changed, such as the way magic is handled, but I do not know all of the little intricacies. I felt like I could talk about Chrono Trigger in a different light, which is why I gave it so much attention.

Instead, I would like to bring up one of the most ridiculous and misleading design choices in this particular re-release. It is something that should never have been done the way it was, but I will save my own thoughts on the matter for a little bit later.

Let me explain.

I had just made my way through the Cavern of Earth and defeated Lich. I knew what areas of the map I had access to at the moment (by foot and with my pirate ship), and was not sure where I would be heading next. After touching the crystal prize, the game broke away to show a prior location. Oh, OK! I remember the Earthgift Shrine! That was that cave right by Corneria at the beginning of the game. There was a weird demon-looking thing blocking a path. He just faded away. Gotcha! I will head there next!

I headed on in. I grabbed some of the treasure along the way. The next area was a desert. Oh, no! I never like desert areas in Final Fantasy games! After wandering around for a while and catching on to the looping going on, I found my way to the center oasis and the staircase to the next area. I fought and guided my way through yet another area with the additional treasure chests and monsters.

Everything seemed totally fine. The monsters were a somewhat-appropriate level for my characters to fight against, and since I knew I was over-leveled, my triumphs against them did not make me question a single thing about my journey.

Son. Of. A. Bitch.

I was apparently wandering around a re-release-exclusive bonus dungeon, the end of which housed four bosses making cameos from Final Fantasy III. It had absolutely nothing to do with the general progression of the regular game. This cave area does not even exist on the original NES/Famicom-version game map:

Why on Earth would they break away to show me this area so early in the game if it was a bonus dungeon that had nothing to do with the current story progress (especially if I was no match for the bosses)?

I can only chock it up to the fact that the programmers and intended audience (those who had already played the game before, perhaps many times over) were so drastically familiar with the source material that they overlooked such a major presentation flaw. The last time the game cut away to show me a new area opening up was when the bridge to the north was built — there was absolutely no reason to show this bonus cave area at this particular time. It was misleading and time-wasting.

Thankfully, after losing to the first boss I encountered, the game brought me back right outside the cave. Everyone was alive and down to 1 HP, but I was not kicked back to the title screen, and I did not lose all of the experience and items I had gained along the way. That was, perhaps, the only “smart” design decision in this entire game so far.

Let it be known that I still actually have no clue where it is I am going next in the game. The dancing girl in Corneria even told me she has nothing let to say to me right now. Really? You are the single helpful NPC in the game that I thought I could always rely on, and you have nothing else to say to me? Sheesh! Thankfully, I have a bit of help in the form of a blast-from-the-past. Rather than looking up any FAQs, I have an item that I accidentally borrowed from a friend in high school something like ten years ago. I used it to find my way to Lich a little faster, and I suppose I can refer to it one more time. It is absolutely fascinating to look back at the way the characters are depicted (traditional high-fantasty style as opposed to referencing Yoshitaka Amano’s designs) and the verbiage differences between the far-too-few-letter-namings in the NES version as opposed to the re-translated and modern-consistency namings in the GBA re-release.

While I have a huge issue with that one aspect of the game (and one that is only related to the re-release, no less), do not misunderstand — I am having a really fun time exploring this first game. It is crazy that I never got around to playing it.

Will it be one that I complete (III, IV, VII), or one that I ultimately drop (VI, VIII, X)…? I have a good feeling about this one…!

Nintendo’s 2008-2009 Updates

Well, we’ve got a new Nintendo DS on the way (along with a few other things).

There has already been a bunch of discussion about the whole thingie-ma-bob, despite the press event only happening within the last 24 hours (as of this writing, Nintendo has yet to hold their US press event). However, there are a couple very specific things that I wanted to bring to everyone’s attention.

The first item of interest is the removal of Slot 2 (the GameBoy Advance slot) on the DSi. As you no doubt heard from episode two of our podcast, the issue of backwards compatibility is of both major interest and apathy among us (depending on the system, games, etc.). A huge point we brought up was that Activision’s Guitar Hero: On Tour, as well as the upcoming On Tour Decades on November 18th, rely(ies) on Slot 2 to house and interact with the guitar frets attachment. Needless to say, these games will (theoretically) be completely unusable with the DSi.  I suppose it’s a good thing for Activision that they already got their Guitar Hero: On Tour & DS bundle out the door earlier this year, because that thing is looking more and more irrelevant as information comes out of Nintendo today.

This is yet another example supporting my personal belief that Nintendo has been one step behind where they should be with regards to… well, everything… since the Gamecube. I know, blasphemy, especially considering all the profit they are raking in. Hold on.

Microsoft realized and made it clear back with the original Xbox that digital distribution was going to be huge for conoles (even if you missed all of the other signs out there), but Nintendo really had no foresight for this. The Wii’s internal space was limited to microscopic levels (more on this in a bit), and the DS had Slot 2 to play actual GBA games.

Of course, you have to consider Nintendo’s approach during the DS’s launch. To them, it was their “third pillar” (main console / GameBoy line / the new DS). For the time, it was a brilliant move; if the DS failed, well, that wasn’t meant to be a replacement for the GameBoy line (right… with it having the GBA slot, and all), so no big loss! Luckily for them, the DS has become a global phenomenon. That Slot 2 is where it gets tricky, though. Would the (original) DS have taken off without it? Keep in mind that nearly every late GBA game was coming with little pamphlets showing you how you would be able to play them on a DS in a whole new light, so to speak.

My point is that if Nintendo really wanted to crank up the digital distribution and sell us GB/GBC/GBA games directly for our new DS, they should have cut Slot 2 out of the DS Lite. The DS was already popular, but the DS Lite is what really… how do I put this… oh, just insert an “it prints money” joke here. Now we have that device in what appears to be every-other-person’s hands no matter where you look, and the GBA slot is right there with them. I’m pulling some Wikipedia-research on you right now, but the numbers look like ~80 million GBAs, and ~77 DSes (so far). That means that there’s already a huge crossover with DS owners that probably have a nice little GBA game library kicking around somewhere. I’ve mentioned this on the show plenty of times: why would I re-pay for a game on a new format when I have the original cartridge sitting right over there?

Of course, there are plenty of reasons (as seen by my constant purchases of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda games) with convenience and portability being the main ones. Nintendo is really going to have to prove to these millions upon millions of potential customers exactly why they need to re-pay for Super Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2 (on top of already paying for the original SNES version on Virtual Console, on top of still having the cartridge sitting in their Super Nintendo). Price is going to be a key factor, and one that I do not feel they have been particularly persuasive with. We know the DSi digital distribution pricing scheme will be between about $2 and $10, but there is no further clarification on what will be sold and for what price level.

How does Pokémon play into this, by the way? A huge deal with Diamond & Pearl was the fact that you could put all of your Generation III games (FireRed / LeafGreen / Ruby / Sapphire / Emerald) into Slot 2 and do all sorts of neat things (transfer the critters via Pal Park, mostly). How about future games? How are we going to be expected to transfer from Generation IV to Generation V? Will we need two DS systems?

That also brings to mind what I call Nintendo’s “tethering” to the DS. If you play certain games (and especially if you go online with those games), you will notice that the games tell you that your system and game are being considered a single entity now, and will need to be used together exclusively. For the most part, this presents no problems other than ending up with a new friend code if you decide to upgrade from a DS to a DS Lite, for example. For games like Pokémon, though, it gets a little more difficult. I actually do not know the full extent of it, so perhaps you all can help me. What are the ramifications for taking a Generation IV game to a new system? If I start playing it on a DS Lite instead of my old DS, will My Pokémon Ranch recognize that it is still the same game? Will I be locked out of transferring back my little guys? It may not be the same system + game combo, but gosh darn it, it is still the same cartridge!

Finishing off my backwards compatibility ranting and raving is the whole idea of the “Wii de Asobu” (Play On/For Wii) series. Just like Capcom did with Resident Evil 4, but actually applying a brand to it, Nintendo is going to re-releasing a bunch of Gamecube games with enhanced Wii-specific controls. You don’t get to play a new Pikmin game, but you sure get to play the old one… with Wii controls! In all honesty, this actually sounds like it could be pretty interesting. Metroid Prime fans are probably salivating at the thought of re-playing the first two games with the Prime controls. Imagine going back and playing Wind Waker with the Wii’s Twilight Princess controls; while they may not have been as necessary or appropriate as the Metroid Prime control evolution, going back to non-Wiimote+Nunchuck for Zelda can be a little off-putting. This is pretty ingenious on Nintendo’s part, in that they (once again) get to charge you (once again) for playing the exact same game (once again) only slightly differently.

You will notice I am ignoring all the things like the internal cameras, further embellishing on the SD card slot, downloadable web browser, music playing, etc. These are all the expected next-steps for Nintendo, and I honestly just do not have a lot to say about any of them.

The last thing I did want to address is Nintendo’s admission that there is insignificant storage space available on the Wii, and that they will be utilizing the SD card slot to solve this problem in Spring 2009. I have spoken before about my experiences with having to clear out the fridge, so I will not bother going into it in-depth again. It would not surprise me if it was Nintendo’s arrogance that got them into this situation, though. They honestly believed that there would not be any storage problem, and they honestly believed that moving things to and from (rather than executing directly off of) an SD card was sufficient. That would be perfectly fine… if they weren’t also selling us Nintendo 64 games, Turbo-CD games, and WiiWare games. Especially with the latter, it was probably quite shocking for them to realize that the less-than-512 MB really isn’t enough to actively use the system for what they’re now intending it to be used for. The SD card slot is really the most simple solution, and I am thoroughly glad (and relieved) to see them utilize what is actually right there inside the system, rather than pushing more useless white plastic our way.

So what about you all? What are your thoughts on everything? It was certainly a lot to wake up to this morning, that’s for sure.

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