Final Fantasy Free For All
If you think about it, Squaresoft wields quite a hefty load of power. Not the power of some dark and sinister evil force… nor the power to hurl comets and time paradoxes at the world. No. Their power can be summed up in two words: Final Fantasy. I'm not talking about the games -- I'm talking about the lunatic merchandising. Action figures are understandable, but did you know in Japan you can actually buy Squall's full costume, complete with short leather jacket, pants, and belt? Griever necklace sold separately. What was Final Fantasy like before all this? Answer: Final Fantasy Anthology - a collection of Final Fantasy 5 and 6.
With Anthology, what you're essentially given is an emulator -- an interpreter that takes the original Final Fantasy code and allows it to be understood by the Playstation. Just so the game isn't exactly the same this time, Squaresoft tacked on some of their trademark video at the beginning and ends of the two games.
Final Fantasy 5 (never released in the US before now) tells the story of four adventurers on a quest to bring tranquility back to the land. The elemental crystals of Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water granted peace and prosperity to the people of the world. These crystals have mysteriously shattered, and chaos ensued shortly thereafer. And wouldn't you know it... a meteor fall out of the sky as well. Crazy, crazy meteors. Why are they always causing trouble?
Final Fantasy 5 concentrates more on the gameplay, rather than a driving story. To increase the ability of your characters, a "jobs" system is used. Once you get it down, you'll be able to thoroughly customize your characters by setting jobs and combining abilities. It's a pretty deep system that plays well. While the story seems simple by today's standards, the battle and development keep it fun.
Final Fantasy 6 actually came out as Final Fantasy 3 in the US (darned international conversions... even NASA can't get them right). During a time between the end of magic and the advent of technology, great beasts known as Espers held the secret to the mystic arts. Long thought to be extinct, these Espers are being sought out for their magic powers... powers that could lead to war. Terra, a girl with no memory of her past, could be the key to unlocking those powers.
What Final Fantasy 6 does really well is tell a story with an incredibly large cast, and involve you deeply in all the characters. This is the RPG by which the RPG's of today are still derived, in terms of story development and gameplay. There is a dual system in the game. Each character can equip "relics" that give them special abilities (i.e. run faster or guard your teammates). In addition, your characters can get the aid of those mighty Espers to help them learn and hone their magic.
Before Final Fantasy took on a lean anime look, it had the beautiful character designs of Yoshitaka Amano. His art can be seen in the menu character screen shots and the instruction manuals. Personally, I felt the best aspect of the new videos was how well Amano's flowing style was translated. I just don't understand why they changed Terra's hair from green to yellow. All in all, watching a three dimensional interpretation of a two dimensional scene is neat, but the videos feel more tacked-on then part of the game. Merely justification for purchasing an old game. If Squaresoft makes another repackaged old title, they really should make the videos intermittent throughout the game.
Still, there are some problems. Sometimes, there were noticeable drops in the frame rates. While we all know 2D bitmaps aren't the Playstation's thang, these games predate the PSX by several years.They could have at least made sure everything ran perfectly smooth. On the other hand, the problem does add to the "nostalgic" feeling.
In addition to 5 and 6, Anthology comes with a compilation CD of music. I'm not exactly sure how the tracks were selected, but among some beautiful tunes there are a few duds that made it in. More bonuses would have been nice ( The PSX release of Lunar came with the fancy packaging and other little extras). Then again, Anthology is priced lower, making it a more affordable option.
My big question is: Where is Final Fantasy 4? Final Fantasy 4 (Final Fantasy 2 in the US) was included in the Japanese packaging of Final Fantasy Anthology. It seems like Square is holding out on us, allowing them the possibility of releasing a second anthology volume if this one does well. But I'll forgive them if they ever release the original Crono Trigger for Playstation stateside.
Anthology is basically a chance for those who have never played a true old school RPG to see where it all started, as well as how things have evolved. The two games still hold up remarkably well, serving up a steaming plate of nostalgia. As an entry for the Playstation though, I would've liked to see some more updates. Then again, there's the argument that updating it would take away from the original experience of the game. Any way you look at it, these two games are still a worthy trip down an old fond fantasy.