Game Description: Combining two titles from the highly acclaimed Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy Anthology offers PlayStation game console owners a glimpse into the past of one of the most successful role playing series of all time. The inclusion of Final Fantasy V marks the first time this title has appeared on a console in North America. Final Fantasy VI, originally released as Final Fantasy III on the SNES system in the U.S., brings one of the most successful RPG's in history to the PlayStation game console for the first time. Each game in the compilation will feature never before seen CG movies.
It seems to be "walk down memory lane" week at GameCritics.com. Last time around, Chi was reminiscing about the years and the money he wasted standing in front of a Gauntlet arcade machine. Now, I am about to relate a similar tale. Back in the day, action games were my thing and I never gave role-playing games (RPGs) much thought. It was only through a chance occurrence that I got my hands on Final Fantasy II. I was at a store trading in an old game and as fate would have it, the only thing I could get for Darius Twin was Final Fantasy II (FF2). I didn't want to do it, but thanks to some "urging" from Chi, I relented and made the trade. I knew of FF2, or Final Fantasy IV (FF4), as it was known in Japan (where it was immensely popular), but RPGs were nowhere near as popular in the U.S. and certainly not at my house. It took a couple of days for me or my brother to even touch it, but when we broke down and played it we were blown away right from the start. The intro was pretty good, but the evolving story and characters were beyond great and that's what kept me playing. The more I played, the more hooked I became. And once I beat it (and had recovered from the withdrawal), I rented every RPG I could get my hands on. I even tried my hands at the Final Fantasy Game Boy games (something I had sworn never to do). I credit this title with opening my eyes and convincing me to embrace other genres.
Apparently, just enough American gamers felt the same way as I did and this prompted Square to announce the future release of Final Fantasy V (FF5) as Final Fantasy III (FF3). Unfortunately, it was constantly delayed until, finally, its release was scrapped for the newer installment [Final Fantasy VI (FF6)], which would be called FF3. Square wasn't hurt by this move at all because when FF3 finally hit our shores, gamers gobbled it up in record numbers. An unprecedented number, over one half-million, of gamers have bought this game since its release, which is why it is credited with ushering in the age of RPGs in America. Since then, we've been fed a steady stream of RPGs from Square and Enix and even some unlikely releases from the likes of Konami and Capcom. This is something I think is worth mentioning because many in the industry these days act as if RPG popularity began with Final Fantasy VII (FF7).
A lot was riding on FFA as far as I was concerned. We've come a long way since these 16-Bitters were the best the industry had to offer and it seemed unlikely that they would hold up well after the advent of graphical wonders like FF7 and Final Fantasy VIII (FF8). Gladly, all my trepidation was allayed once I started the games up and was greeted by that oh-so familiar logo and tinny introductory music. Amazingly, the sprite-based graphics still hold up quite nicely. They may no longer be revolutionary, but they still show the inventiveness and genius of the artists and programmers who made them. After playing FF8, this was the kind of back-to-basics break that I needed; I needed to be reminded that there was a time when developers knew how to use story and gameplay to draw gamers into their fictional world as opposed to overblown CG movies and 3D characters. I quickly fell back in love with all the characters and their melodramatic storylines and I was further taken back by the excellent music so prevalent in this series. It was because of the deep storyline and the music and sound effects wizardry that enabled 2D sprite-based characters (using three or four frames of animation) to pull off some of the most dramatic and humorous scenes in the history of video games. I don't even hesitate to say that to this day, it is unmatched.
Once I started playing FF5, I was back in my parents' old apartment and sitting on my bed, ready to lose myself in a Square Soft adventure. I easily forgot that I was playing a PlayStation remake because everything was so faithful to the Super Nintendo system (SNES) from the 16-Bit midi music to the famed Mode 7 special effects, which were perfectly reproduced on the PlayStation. While the most linear of the bunch, FF5's inclusion of the job system makes it the most innovative of the series in terms of gameplay. Here, I could assign certain jobs like Knight or Monk to a character and have him learn those skills and once they were learned, I could simply choose another job for more diverse abilities. It added greatly to the game and, instantly, I was irritated that it took so long for Square to release it here. The job system was a little confusing, at first, but it quickly became second-nature and added a level of strategy that begged to be expanded upon and made into a separate game (it was finally done in a game called Final Fantasy Tactics). As for FF6, I am happy to say that it is just as I remembered it and this is a good thing. The sweeping music and ground-breaking graphics still impress and the stories take everything to a level that few have been able to match (even on next-generation hardware like the PlayStation).
When all was said and done, I couldn't get one question out of my mind: how can you have a Final Fantasy Anthology and not include FF4?! Two games do not an anthology make. It's incredibly hard to accept that they left out FF4 (which actually made it into the Japanese version of FFA) and instead, tried to placate us with a music CD. Music CDs are nice, frill additions and for nostalgic purposes, they are great for a while. However, this particular CD quickly loses its punch since it's just midi music taken right off the 16-Bit games' silicon and not done by an orchestra. Only the most hardcore of fans will keep this CD on their CD players for more than a day. Another addition that is mostly wasted on me are the CG intros and endings. Upon first viewing they look nice, but they do not fit with the overall look of the game and add nothing at all but fodder for print ads and television commercials. If they really wanted to do something to give the game an update, they should have updated the in-game graphics completely and then toss in the CG movies, but as it is, they are all merely token gestures.
FFA would have easily gotten a 9.5 if only it included FFV; the game is so good by itself that it warrants such a high score. I had untold fun playing these games and the nostalgia factor is unbelievably high. The problem is that FFA, ultimately, is an anthology and it must be judged by the sum of its parts. To its credit, Square EA did pack in the second best RPG in the whole series with FF6, but I cannot let Square off the hook because they left out my all-time favorite, FF4. When I first heard about this collection, I was salivating to get my hands on all three parts. The collector in me was dying to get my hands on this just so I could look at it on my shelf and say that I had pieces of history on my shelf, all together in one CD case. It's upsetting that they tossed in a mere music CD as a replacement for such a monumental game. Judged by the sum of its parts, FFA would make a nice addition to a collection, but ironically it really can't claim to be a collection on its own.
To all the Square-heads and otakus out there (who are gonna buy this game regardless), I apologize in advance, but this review isn't meant for you. It's meant for Squaresoft whom I hope to sting a little. As a consumer-conscious web site, I feel it is my duty to send a message to those marketing geniuses who decided to call this an 'anthology' and somehow forgot to include the most important piece of the puzzle, FF4. It's like having an exhibit of Impressionists and forgetting Monet or Renoir. It's like talking about Film Noir without mentioning Double Indemnity or Touch of Evil. It just doesn't make sense to leave FF4 out, especially since this is a collection for prosperity more than anything else. And we are most unlikely to see part 4 by itself unless we get another, perhaps, more 'perfect collection' to milk our pocket books.
Or course it didn't help that they sought to correct this offense by including a poor excuse for a musical soundtrack. I've long been a fan of game music and no stranger to paying exorbitant prices for import CDs. One of my great pleasures as a gamer has been to hear musical scores from videogames remixed or even given the full-blown orchestra treatment. Sadly, the CD included in the FFA package is far from that. Music from the 16-Bit era sound terrific when actually playing the game, but when taken out of context and played back on a full blown audio system, it sounds like you're listening to something on your baby brother's Playskool toy. Its even more of a travesty that the music was left exactly as is considering the sheer amount of reorchestrated FF soundtracks currently available in Japan. All they need to do was work out the legal and copyright issues and port over any one of the superior offerings.
As for the actual games themselves, I was duly impressed with the previously-MIA FF5. I was never fanatical over Square's RPGs (aside from their Game Boy Legend series) because attribute development, which I feel is the utmost important feature in an RPG, took a back-seat to storyline. You could tell easily that Part 5 marked that turning point away from attributes and toward the intensely plot-driven Part 6. Had Square continually stuck with the extensive 'job' and 'ability' development system found in Part 5, we could be looking at a very different company today. Nevertheless, Part 5 did have a great attribute system, which was much to my liking and after getting over the old-school graphics, I found the game refreshing since I, unlike some of my more ambitious friends, never ventured to play the Super Famicom version. The game was surprisingly easy to grasp and I was drawn to not only to the 'job' system, but to the finely understated plot as well.
FF6 (or 3 when I played it) is another story since this is a game I played my brains out with upon its release. Within minutes of playing it, all the old memories started to come back and as each new character was introduced, I kept thinking to myself how amazingly complex, yet comprehensible the story was, even by today's standards. Never has a game had such an ensemble of richly emotional and distinctly likable characters (Tekken comes close, I think). The myriad special effects during combats also show the ancestral beginnings of Part 8's overblown Guardian Force attacks. For this particular version, I liked the little bonus development artwork and CG captures, yet one thing that I couldn't shake was how annoyingly often (even compared to Part 5) I was attacked during play. I couldn't enter any danger-zone without getting attack once or twice on average and I don't recall being so flustered when playing it back on the SNES.
So the real gem here is Part 5 and had Squaresoft tried to package FFA differently or simply included the maligned Part 4; I might be singing a very different tune. As it stands, the games play fine and I'd marginally recommend it to anyone looking to reminisce or is dying to play the forgotten Part 5. Others, not familiar with the series, may find the frequency of attacks a little too grinding by today's standards. Finally, as an anthology, trading one MIA hostage for another doesn't cut it and throwing in a sub-par soundtrack proves that, outside of mathematics, two negatives don't make a positive.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Comic Mischief, Mild Animated Violence
For the most part, the Final Fantasy Anthology games are clean with mildly suggestive dialogue, nowhere near as overboard as their 32-Bit counterparts so parents don't have to worry.
Final Fantasy Anthology is a MUST for any Square fan who has never played the originals on the 16-Bit Super Nintendo (you can't call yourself a Square fan if you've only been initiated by Final Fantasy VII or Final Fantasy VIII).
The veteran Square RPG players should buy it just for the chance to finally play Final Fantasy 5 in English. The nostalgia of playing these games is enough to warrant a purchase, but be forewarned that Final Fantasy IV is not included.