26th of August, 2022
Hello! Welcome back to our regular feature where we write a little bit about some of the games we've found ourselves playing over the last few days. This time: Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy, and one of the greatest games of all time.
If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We've Been Playing, here's our archive.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade, PS5
When people talk about Final Fantasy 7, I go a bit quiet because, between you and me, I never actually played it. And I know, I know, but I didn't have a PlayStation so how could I? All I could do was go to my friend's house and watch him play, but there's a limit to how long you can do that before it gets weird and the parents throw you out.
But now, 25 years later, I'm given a chance to experience it again, as if it were a new game, courtesy of the Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade on PS5. And the whole thing fascinates me because I'm getting both a history lesson and a modern game all at once. And it's beautiful and it runs deliciously: I know technical issues aren't always the sexiest thing to talk about but FF7 runs like silk on PS5. This, as a project, as a remake, is about as lavish as it will ever get (excluding the upcoming instalments) and only a game as historic as Final Fantasy 7 could ever command something like it. So that's great.
But there's also this jarring dissonance of old and new. On the one hand you have a dazzling new combat system that's acrobatic and cinematic, and feels more like an action game than anything Final Fantasy (except maybe 15). But at the same time you have old level design and pacing and mission design from the original game, and they clash. Is it old, is it new? I'm not sure it ever really knows - it sort of wavers back and forth.
Not that I'm complaining! I love that a project like this exists. I do wonder, though, what younger audiences detached from the context surrounding the original think, but perhaps such a detachment is impossible. Back to my Cloud I go.
Final Fantasy 12, PS5
Double speed is a game changer. I never really enjoyed Final Fantasy 12 the first time around on PS2, despite loving the series as a whole: the combat is too hands-off, the labyrinthine dungeons are laborious, and the environments are sandy brown, dirt brown, and rocky brown.
But the Zodiac Age version brought a number of changes, best of all double speed that allows you to simply race through all the rubbish bits with a hilarious running animation, Benny Hill theme not included. That might sound like damning praise, but it’s allowed me to see the game with fresh eyes.
Final Fantasy 12 has always shone for its grounded political drama and likeable cast of characters (except Vaan, sorry). That’s still the case. But at double speed the dungeons are far less of a roadblock and I’ve arrived at the lush, late-game areas much quicker. Battles, meanwhile, are a breeze. Without getting bogged down by the drudging minutiae of each encounter, emphasis is instead placed on the licence board metagame, tinkering away at the available abilities of my party and deciding what weapons and armours to unlock next before one-handedly grinding for points until becoming so OP that bosses are laughable. Suddenly the long game of party management feels far more manageable at higher speeds.
I’m also more inclined to tick off the game’s side quests and hunts. These require a considerable amount of backtracking through each maze-like environment, but in double speed I can focus on the destination and not the journey. And that’s led me to some more challenging and interesting boss fights, as well as extra stories to flesh out the plot. I never bothered with this extraneous stuff before, but double speed has had the completionist in me happily spending an evening ticking off menu items, giving me the space to just relax and enjoy the ride. It’s a weird dichotomy of rushing yet taking my time.
I always felt I misunderstood Final Fantasy 12 the first time around and wanted to give it a second chance. Now, despite its length, I’ve been able to sprint through it and re-evaluate its merits. Double speed is an option all JRPGs should have, frankly.
There's probably a book to be written in the ways that Lumines and Tetris are not alike. It's weird to report, though, that I am now bad at both of them in exactly the same way.
It's greed, really - greed and a desire to showboat. In Tetris this means I wait eternally for the long block and I plan around it, taking stupid risks in the hope that it will drop in and score me four lines at once.
In Lumines, the long block is called the fuse block - it's the block that allows you to clear any blocks of the same colour once it's connected and the timeline sweeps past. This means that I rig landscapes with a back and forth path of one colour, building perilously high and courting disaster, chasing the perfect pay-off.
And it has to be said that the pay-off in Lumines is far more exciting than the pay-off in Tetris. Four lines are fine, but there's nothing like a chain of orange blocks erupting, and leading to a secondary chain of white blocks erupting on the next timeline pass.
When it works, anyway. When it doesn't work - and all afternoon for me it has not worked - both games are entirely alike in the way they conjure sweet frustration.