Tag Archives: Final Fantasy


It’s interesting to see the level of randomness we’ll accept in our games. This post is somewhat inspired by the running jokes regarding the luck of Bel and Tam.

One of the complaints Tam and I shared about Darkest Dungeon was the tendency toward “cascading failure”. It was my experience that an enemy crit might lead to your entire team getting stressed, which might make one go crazy and start attacking a party member who would then get more stressed and go crazy, until your entire party is dead. This remains a problem even if the enemies aren’t much of a threat otherwise. Darkest dungeon revels in its randomness, and it was a bit much for me. I figured it would be a good opportunity to examine how other games use randomness.

Two Extremes

On one side, we have roguelikes. On the other hand, there are a lot of examples of games with no randomness whatsoever, like Super Mario Brothers. For the purposes of this conversation, I’m ignoring the second category, but there are a lot more of them than you might think at first. Most scrolling shooters, bullet hell or otherwise, have fixed patterns, with the only changes coming from reaction to the player’s position. Most platformers are similar, even modern ones like Rayman, Ori, and Super Meat Boy. (As an aside, Super Meat Boy is such a wonderful example of a lot of game concepts that I’m probably not going to stop comparing things to it until people no longer remember what it is.) Instead of talking about those, let’s start somewhere else familiar.

More Super Meat Boy

Ultimate Illusion

It’s not hard to see where the Final Fantasy series took its original inspiration from, and so it’s not a large surprise that it ended up with random elements to replace the dice rolling that tabletop RPGs use. As a result, there’s turn order, damage variance, spell effectiveness, enemy target selection, enemy attack selection, encounter rate, encounter type, and probably other things that I’m forgetting that are randomly determined. Even with all of this, Final Fantasy is not random enough that it feels unfair. You know that your fighter or monk is going to reliably do a certain amount of damage, enough to kill an enemy in X number of hits. You know that if you use fire spells on undead enemies, most of them will take more damage than usual. You can even have a good idea of how much damage enemies do, so you know when you need to heal. Even though there’s some amount of randomness inherent in all of these things, it isn’t overwhelming.

Final Fantasy 1


Roguelikes (so-named because of the game Rogue) feel like the above does not go far enough. Some of my favorite games fall into this category, like Risk of Rain, the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series, and Diablo (think about it). Hallmarks here include all of the above, plus random (or semi-random) level design, random items, and getting set back dramatically if you die. The goal in this is to ensure that every time you play the game it’s a little different. The large death penalty also encourages learning, instead of memorization; your growing skill as a player is supposed to be the driving factor behind making further progress. There are enough games calling themselves roguelikes with progression systems that this isn’t always true.

My problem with some games like this is that it’s possible to get an RNG overdose. Using Risk of Rain as an example, if you’re playing one of the close-range characters and don’t have a decent source of healing by about 20 minutes (on normal), you might be doomed due to circumstances that are mostly outside of your control. Likewise if you’re the commando (the character you start with) and haven’t found something that helps you deal with groups, you’re going to have a hard time. Roguelikes in general tend to be somewhat bad about this, it’s possible to have lost and not even know for a period of time. In Risk of Rain in particular, this time is unlikely to be longer than about 10 minutes. In Darkest Dungeon, it sometimes wasn’t as kind. (Ex: “You didn’t bring enough shovels, but you don’t know that yet!”) They also have the problem outlined in the opening, where defeat comes from a series of unlucky rolls in a very short amount of time.

Risk of Rain
Then there’s the engineer, in which case you don’t care about items.

Sliding Scale

This doesn’t seem like an easy problem to solve. In games of this style, things have to vary enough to be interesting, without screwing the player over completely. You might argue that “screwing the player over completely” is the point, but I don’t buy that, and that mentality is why most of these games struggle to expand their audience. I think one of the best solutions is the ability to choose how difficult the game is, but this isn’t perfect. Diablo doesn’t make you play on Hardcore mode, but it’s there as an option. Pokemon Mystery Dungeon only makes you start at square one (Level 1, no items) for the bonus dungeons.

I haven’t given up on roguelikes as a whole, and I’m always interested to see how the next one handles some of these issues. The fact that other people like even the games I think are too random proves that there’s an audience that enjoys that. Steam certainly has plenty to choose from.

On Marching to Zanarkand

The original title of this post was going to be “On Nonsensical Titles”, but that would look silly if I ever end up writing about a Kingdom Hearts game in the future and the title is even worse.

Instead of leveling up in Destiny, I’ve been addicted to a rhythm game. (This is a thing that happens sometimes.) Theatrythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call is the re-release of the original Theatrythm Final Fantasy for the 3DS, including somewhat expanded game modes and all of the first game’s DLC and then some. It came up on the podcast when I discussed what I’d been playing, and it’s really eaten a lot of my gaming time over the past week.

The Basics

Ignoring the EMS stages because no one cares about those, Theatrythm is about using the stylus or buttons to tap along with directions that move from left to right across the screen. The two modes that matter are Field Music Stages and Battle Music Stages, BMS and FMS from here on out. FMS involve a single character moving across the screen, potentially finding treasure along the way, and getting a prize if they go far enough. If you miss a note, your character might fall and be replaced by the next character in your party, they’ll also take a little bit of damage. Finishing the song before you run out of health completes the stage.

Crystal Cave Intro
BMS have your entire party lined up on the right in traditional Final Fantasy fashion, as notes and enemies come in from the left. Hitting a note does damage to enemies according to the characters’ strength, missing a note causes your party to take damage. Successfully beating up monsters can earn treasure, and the song is passed if you reach the end before your HP runs out.

Under the Weight

The “Final Fantasy” Part

The framework is more than just for show. Characters level up, increase stats, and can equip abilities that improve their performance in the various stages. Examples include Paeon, which provides constant healing over time, Focus, which does additional damage after a certain number of held notes, or Trance, which triples magic power once your chain is high enough.

A lot of XP
Every song has a “feature zone”, which does something special depending on how well you do in it. In FMS, this summons a chocobo to let you go faster, with the color depending on how many perfects you got. In BMS, this calles one of the series’ standard summons (Or Knights of the Round) if you don’t miss any notes, or a chocobo (which does very little damage) if you do.

Ifrit summoning
In addition, one of the primary modes of play involves going on “quests”, which give you a map of (initially hidden) songs to choose from which form a path to a boss at the end. Finishing one can get you a lot of experience and potentially rare items (crystal shards, used to unlock characters, are the most common reward). After completing a quest, you can attach its associated map to your profile, and anyone you play against in multiplayer can also do the exact same quest.

Quest Clear!

Nostalgia Overload

The songs in this game are from the entire series, including spinoffs. Without any DLC, Curtain Call has 221 songs taken from all 14 main series games and most of the spinoffs, including Crisis Core, Tactics, Crystal Chronicles, Type-0, Mystic Quest, both Dissidia games, and Advent Children. Most of the songs you would expect are included (except Liberi Fatali for some unknown reason), leaning heavily on battle themes (Yes, Fallen Angel from FF14 is in). There is some DLC for songs not included in the initial release (The game’s been out in Japan for a while) like FF5’s Ancient Library theme.

Dead Dunes All-critical

Overall, this is my Game of the Month for September. The original was good, and the changes to this version make it better in nearly every way. More songs, more characters, more modes, and more control options. If you like rhythm games and Final Fantasy, you should give this a look. If you like rhythm games and don’t like Final Fantasy, you should still give it a look, because the music is awesome.