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The Final Fantasy Bent

Trent Seely

Neuroscience would suggest that our video game preferences, as with other forms of media, are solidified in our youth. That the things we like to play today are the result of a number of different environmental factors. Maybe you started playing a certain type of video game while coping with the death of a family member or as the result of a birthday that you remember particularly fondly. We tend to feel a pull towards certain genres of games because our brains have been molded in a certain way. The challenge, as I see it, is breaking that mold to explore the unknown as an adult.

Case in point: Final Fantasy has been a staple of my life. The first game I remember watching my brother play was Final Fantasy VI and the game that pushed me through a period of depression was Final Fantasy XII. The way I feel about this series and those games in particular stands apart from the way I view most other games. With that concession in mind, my view of other RPGs are subject to a certain bent.

Unfamiliar things in unfamiliar franchises tend to throw me for a loop. Grandia and the Persona games were similar enough for me to groove with from start to finish, but the Tales of and Star Ocean games always felt a bit too frantic for me. Likewise, Dragon Quest, Lunar, and Breath of Fire felt slow and plodding. When your preferences have this kind of hold over you, learning how to play a new game goes in hand with unlearning the old. The variety in front of me couldn't have been fully appreciated without losing existing Final Fantasy preconceptions.

Coming to this realization has forced me to take a step back from Final Fantasy. I've cancelled my Heavensward subscription and have instead been focusing on playing through Breath of Fire II, Phantasy Star IV and Xenoblade. These games have challenged me on a few different levels.

Breath of Fire II has a neat vibe to it, but was harder for me to get into at first. I found the graphics to be whimsical though a bit simplistic. The battle animations really struck a chord. Actually, combat in general was pretty addictive. Seeing health bars deplete due to spectacular special attacks all overtop a living environment was something that made Final Fantasy VI's combat feel inferior to me. It helps that the battle music, as with all the music in Breath of Fire II, is epic. The dialogue is not great (likely due to a poor translation) and the enemy encounter rate feels nuts, but I finally get why Breath of Fire II is considered a classic.

Similarly, Phantasy Star IV felt a bit weird at first. I wasn't a Sega kid, so I my exposure to the franchise was limited to PSO series. The science fiction setting seemed a little harder to believe in a 16-bit environment, but the setting really started to work for me once the events of the game kicked into gear. I realized about four hours in that Phantasy Star IV might be one of the best JRPGs of its generation. It is long and involving, with fascinating characters you actually care about. The combat requires careful thought and feels varied due to regular party shake-ups. At first I didn't love the simplistic menus, but the level of detail in the sprites and battle animations are damn impressive. Took a bit of time for me to jive with this game, but that was a good investment.

Xenoblade Chronicles has been draining much of my 3DS' battery power as of late. I recognize that this game has been talked about ad nauseam, but I couldn't really get into the experience on the Wii. Something about the control scheme just turned me off; perhaps I prefer more standard controllers for RPGs. The handheld version, on the other hand, is impressive considering how large the world is. This is another instance where my Final Fantasy sensibilities weren't being catered to directly and I had to take time to understand all of the game's mechanics. Thankfully, Xenoblade Chronicle's world is massive, surprisingly immersive, beautiful, and full of things to do. I loved the depth of the characters, the non-traditional gameplay, and especially the soundtrack. So much so that I felt guilty for ignoring Xenoblade Chronicles for so long.

Purposefully breaking out of my comfort zone gave me a heightened perspective. While I'll always appreciate the visual and auditory aesthetics of the Final Fantasy games, turning away from them has helped me to realize how certain gameplay elements can be done better. It wasn't easy to let go of my preconceptions of what a good JRPG should look like, but doing so has opened me up to wonderful new things that wouldn't have naturally fit my mold. I invite you to consider doing the same. You may just fall in love with a real gem.

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