Friday, May 30, 2014

TEXT PLAY: Final Fantasy VIII (SquareSoft, 1999; Playstation): Issue #002: Fools Rush In

We're only just starting this game, and already, I'm starting to seriously dislike some of these characters again.

Seifer, especially. Turns out, he's got groupies, too, and they're more obnoxious than the ones that like Quistis. At least Quistis's fans give her room to do what she needs to do. Seifer's groupies follow him damn near everywhere, and seem like the sorts who would do just about anything for him, which would be bad enough if he didn't come across as a complete asshole. But Seifer seems like one of those mass-murdering pricks who would go on a killing spree because nobody was willing to just hand him everything he thought he deserved. And his groupies, named Fujin and Raijin, would go right along with him.

I feel bad about seeming to make jokes about that, in light of what pretty much just happened in Isla Vista, California, I believe, and a couple other places recently as well, but we've been letting dickheads like that run around almost unchecked until after they act for so long that we based a somewhat major character in a well-known video game series fifteen years ago on that personality type. Every time something like this happens, I have to wonder if we really and truly don't see crap like this coming, and if not, why we don't, or if we do, why there's not a better system in place for at least trying to stop them beforehand. But enough of the social commentary for now. I'll save it for a later blog post and get back to the game.

Once Squall gets his school uniform on and heads to the main lobby, Quistis tells him that he's going to be part of B-Squad for the test. His squad mates will be a bouncy martial artist named Zell Dinct and his gunblade-weilding rival Seifer, who shows up with his entourage, Fujin and Raijin. Quistis says that the higher-ups have decided that Seifer gets command of the squad. God only knows why, because, well, see above.

We're then introduced to Headmaster Cid, who explains that Balam Garden's branch of SeeD, the elite mercenary force our heroes have thus far been training to join, has been contracted by the government of someplace called the Dukedom of Dollet to help them defend against an invading army from the nation of Galbadia, and this is their final field exam to be inducted into SeeD as full-fledged members. And no, that's not a typo, that's how it's actually spelled in the game. I'll get into that closer to the end of the post.

This bit here is what inspired the most recent episode of my Observation Time vlog, because I have to wonder what the hell the folks at Balam Garden had to say and/or do to sell the Dollet government on letting them send in a dozen cadets to take care of this. Was there like a half-price deal or something? I'm not sure how else they could have sold something like that, because there's a ton of things that could go wrong with this idea.

So, the mission we're on here is to go into Dollet and take out as many Galbadian soldiers as we can. It's Squall's team and three other units of students that will be heading in for this, backed up by nine regular SeeD members backing them up. Essentially 21 mercenaries against a nation's army. Does SeeD like killing off its staff, or something?

Squall's unit specifically is ordered to take the Central Square and then hold position until the order to pull out is given. Yeah, I know, a boring mission, but there we go. Or at least one would think, because one of the things that could go wrong actually does. Seifer gets bored almost instantly and decides to break orders when he sees a unit of Galbadian soldiers sneak through the square and head for a broadcast tower of some sort. Seifer decides that they should go and check it out because everybody's bored with just following orders. Zell complains, but Seifer pretty much blows his objection off without even really acknowledging it. Squall agrees with Seifer, because Seifer's the unit commander. Both are correct, I suppose, and as somebody who's never been in a situation like that, it's easy for me to say that I'd at least try to go a middle route here.

With that, it's off to the broadcast tower. Along the way, we start having to fight actual monsters as well as Galbadian soldiers. There's a snake moster called Anacondaur and what looks like one of the slug things that were crawling on Spock's coffin on the Genesis Planet in Star Trek III called a Gezard. This is where we start running into the issue of enemies that drop tons of seemingly useless junk on the party in the form of items. This happened last issue, too, but I've already been able to make use of some of it. One of the monsters on the way to the Fire Cavern dropped a spider web, which taught Quistis a move for her limit break, which is blue magic. And I've already taught some of my Guardian Forces abilities that let me turn some items into various forms of elemental, at least for now, magic. Some of these things can also be used as actual items, should somebody have the item command equipped, I believe. But the Gezards have a bad way of mostly screws after almost every fight with them, and about the only real use I've found for them is to upgrade weapons. And yes, I mean screws as in those things used to fasten various structures together.

Seifer abandons his post as unit commander instantly when he sees that the tower is filled with Galbadian soldiers because he wants to have himself a good old fashioned killing spree. And he's gone for good now, because his GF is now listed as unattached, and when Selphie, the girl Squall helped back at Balam Garden, shows up to join the party, she's got all his magic. Turns out, she's with A-Squad and has come to tell us that the order to pull out has been given and we've only got a half hour to get back to the boat.

Before she can say anything, though, we see Seifer ranting about having a romantic dream as he goes scurrying off into the tower, in full kill-frenzy mode. As the rest of the party enters, we see a lift coming down, which seems to say that Seifer's gone all the way to the top. Before we take the lift, though, we have a chance to get some Blind magic from a draw point. I'll give that to Squall and put it on his sword, since the GF I've got on him has the ability to bind status magic to his attacks. It's only got a three percent chance of working right now, but that's better than none, I guess. I do believe Ifrit came with the ability to bind elemental magic to attacks, and since Ifrit is on Zell, I've got his attack bound to lightning magic, which will come in handy in a bit.

At the top of the tower, we find Biggs and Wedge making repairs to the tower. Things are in the final stages there, and they're about to turn the thing on. Wasn't Biggs called Vicks? Or am I thinking of the other Text Play I've got going right now. I guess we know what happened to them after Tritoch zapped them.

Anyway, after Biggs flips the switch, he sees us and decides to fight. He wants Wedge to help, but fights us alone for a bit because Wedge is gone. After a couple rounds, Wedge does show back up. I just decided to start using my GFs on them, because I've already been at this for awhile, and the next part's going to take some time, too. We don't have a chance to beat Biggs and Wedge here because a giant bee monster, sans Linkara's famous bee joke, called Elvoret shows up and knocks them aside. At least Elvoret has a new summon for us, in the form of Siren, and some magic called Double. Not entirely sure what it's used for, but at least Siren has a use, because it silences magic-using foes and has some more abilities for us.

Now, luckily, the 30-minute timer doesn't start running until after Elvoret is defeated, because Biggs is still doing well enough to sic a giant mechanical spider on us. This is one of a few monsters I don't think they managed to program a proper name in for, because we're fighting X-ATMO30 or some such thing. The real pisser of this is that when Spoony talked about having to fight this damed thing four times in his review, that was a minimum. I must have had to deal with the damned thing a half dozen times, minimum. I never was much good at getting this thing off me, and while I know it's the sort of thing that if done right, only needs to be dealt with once, I've never been able to get away from it until I got into the city streets.

And where is Seifer in all of this? Well, he was too busy murdering Galbadian solders in the broadcast tower while we were dealing with Biggs, Wedge, and Elvoret, and then he just buggered right on off to the boat once the withdraw order was given. Worse yet, once we get back to Balam, he, Fujin and Raijin abscond with the company car the Garden had waiting for us when we got back, so the party has to hoof it back to headquarters. Not an entirely bad thing, mind you, because it does give us a chance to look around the city of Balam. It's a nice place. Turns out, Zell's mom lives here, so we can go say hi. I know my own mom likes it when I do that, so why not, right? It's worth knowing where a few things are, since we'll be coming back here soon.

Back at Balam Garden, we're a couple hours from hearing who passed the test. There's only four who did: Selphie, Zell, Squall, and a random NPC. Headmaster Cid has a special comment for all of them. He tells Selphie that he's looking forward to something called the Garden Festival. He tells the random guy that being important isn't important as long as you're good at what you do. Zell needs to check his emotions, and Cid is happy that Squall is SeeD's first-ever gunblade user to pass the test. Makes sense, though. Those gunblades are the video-game-weapon equivalent of me trying to walk: awkward as hell and far too easy to mess up, so it's no surprise that hardly anybody else even bothers with them.

Seifer, meanwhile, has failed the test again, for the umpteent time, and says he blames Squall and the others for his failure. Yeah, right. Squall's the one at fault for Seifer's failure, not Seifer's own kill-crazy mentality, defiant attitude, and refusal to follow orders. And if I understand what else is going on here, Seifer's pretty much flunked out of the program at this point. It's only a shame we don't get to see him going on a killing spree. End Sarcasm. Also, end of this chapter of the story.

But before I go, a few other things I need to talk about here. First of all, the organization Squall's a part of now. It's called SeeD. Maybe the original kanji, or whatever the Japanese character used in place of “SeeD”, has some meaning that's lost in translation, but it seems like SeeD is supposed to stand for something, and we're never told exactly what, far as I know. All we're ever really told is that this is a mercenary organization whose members are supposed to scare the hell out of whoever they go up against.

And then there's the matter of what we've been doing thus far in the game. So far, it's all been one big final test for Squall and his compatriots to join the ranks of SeeD. Now that it's actually happened, I need to explain what I consider one of the worst features in this game. See, we're not given money after fighting enemies in this game, as we have been in previous games, as well as at least the next in the series. Instead, the various things we were being tested on, like judgment, courage, fighting style, and the like, were used to determine Squall's salary level. This is where we get the vast majority of the in-game money we need for the game. This is going to suck for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that Squall is essentially paying for the whole party's weapons upgrades, as well as expendables, transportation, and lodging when we need it.

And while I'm at it, I suppose I'd better mention leveling. In virtually every other Final Fantasy game I've played, the amount of experience needed to go from one level to the next goes up with each level. In this game, it's fixed to 1000 experience points between level. That would be great, except for the fact that the monsters go up in level with Squall, so the stronger he is, the stronger the monsters are, so if his levels get too high, some of the monsters can be obscenely hard, and might even drop different items than what might be expected or needed.

There are ways to manipulate that, through the Junction system and the GF abilities, but I could never get the hang of that.

I hope I'm beginning to give a sense of why I, and I suspect a lot of Final Fantasy fans like me, find this sequel in particular so frustrating. The only other sequel that comes close is the original Final Fantasy II that came out for the original Famicom in Japan. Having played that myself as part of the Origins re-release, I can say I understand that system a little better. There, you get more health by getting the crap kicked out of you, and you can use more and stronger magic by using it, and your battle power goes up the more you fight, as examples.

But anyway, it's late and I've gone long, as I'm known to do when I get on a roll, so I'd better wrap this up and at least pretend to get some sleep. Next issue of Final Fantasy VIII, we'll finally get started with the first story of two that I wish had been the whole damned game.

See you soon, folks. I may be coming with something other than a video game related post next time, but even if I don't, stay safe, have fun, keep gaming, and DFTBA.

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