The Warrior of Light vs. the Hero of Time (Final Fantasy Union)

final-fantasy-union

Over the last two weeks the excellent people at Final Fantasy Union graciously hosted a two-part case study I wrote, comparing the Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda franchises in terms of game design and narrative, dissecting each franchise’s approach to gameplay and story to see what each could learn from the other. If you missed these articles, you can read them here:

Part One

Part Two

(Final Fantasy Union is an excellent source for news on the franchise. In addition to their great monthly podcast and up-to-the-minute coverage, Lauren and Darryl have recently been interviewing the entire English cast of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. Check out their site!)


Art by firebird97 on DeviantArt.com
Art by firebird97 on DeviantArt.com

I found this article very interesting to produce, from the original concept back in March to its publication this month. I cut my teeth on both franchises back on the NES; I took more to FF, but spent a lot of time with LOZ and its sequel as well. Since then I’ve devoured the entire main line of FF games and soaked up a lot of the Zelda series (Hyrule Warriors on Wii U has kept me enthralled since its launch, which is the longest I’ve played one game reliably in… ever).

The more I thought about it, the more I was intrigued by the difference in their approaches. I love the limit-breaking, nihilistic, brooding themes of FF; ambition is one of the series’ strongest traits, but I began to realize it was a downfall as well. Each game gambles, in a way. For example, Cloud’s broken psyche is a hallmark of the most popular game in the series, but the same trait didn’t necessarily score a win for Squall and Lightning to follow. Each game tries a lot of new ideas, which keeps things fresh and innovative, but ultimately each game has more to prove and lose.

I claim in the article that Legend of Zelda can be a little less inventive and more formulaic in some ways; I know this is a very broad stroke and reductionist, but I feel justified in making it. Most of the core games can be boiled down to the same general story arc (excluding black sheep like Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask). And yet, despite the slightly predictable trajectory, I feel the series has an impeccable reputation far and above Final Fantasy‘s. Perhaps fans know what to expect (is anyone ever truly surprised when Ganondorf is involved? Excluding Skyward Sword‘s implications, that is), but they eat it up gladly and come back for more.

(Calling the series “more formulaic” tends to sound like a bad thing, but somehow Nintendo has turned this trait into a strength. That the series can be so fresh and enthralling to so many while staying relatively close to its predecessors is truly an impressive feat. So many other franchises attempt to do this and fail horribly in the current market.)

Final Fantasy certainly has more to learn from Zelda than vice versa. Both embrace their legacies, but I feel the former does so predominately in an aesthetic way – throw in some visual callbacks, recycle some weapon names, and call it nostalgia. I want to keep seeing innovation, but in a more familiar way, if that makes sense – License boards and Paradigm Shifts are cool and all, but what was wrong with the Job System approach? Couldn’t Jobs have been used as a coat of paint on top of these new innovations? Look at Final Fantasy X-2: its Dresspheres were just Jobs in a (fairly sexist) disguise. In keeping with the “girl power” theme Square called a spade a club, and perhaps lost a chunk of its audience in the process.

Did they really *need* to be called dresspheres?
Did they really *need* to be called dresspheres?

And think about it: could Square-Enix make a silent protagonist as compelling and charming as Link?


Speaking of “the link” between player and game, Nintendo could learn the most from Square in this regard. Link is supposed to be our avatar in Hyrule, the connection/link between us and the virtual world – and yet we have very little connection to him. He’s a blank, silent state for us to impose our thoughts upon, sure, but this approach worked better in prior technological eras, when we didn’t have sophisticated means of bringing him to life. I don’t mean to suggest we should be able to customize his entire appearance, or that he should be fully voiced, but it would be fantastic if we could influence him a little bit. A system for influencing Link’s emotions and reactions, for instance. As I mention in the case study, he has a terrible fate or tremendous responsibility dropped on his shoulders but he never bats an eye. It’s a part of why I feel the games are formulaic: the wise sage tells Link he’s the Hero, Link (silently) says “k,” and off he goes with little more than the occasional tear.

Fans are clamouring now for a gender reversal – female Link, male Zelda, or some variation thereof. There have been some awesome propositions for how this might work. I want to see Link fail instead. Maybe he fails early on, either losing his life or being captured by Ganondorf/villain-du-jour as a consequence, and it’s up to Zelda to become the Hero. (Maybe her amazing representation in Hyrule Warriors is twisting my arm on this one, but man, would I love to play a proper game in the franchise where she explores Hyrule with rapier, baton, and rod.)

In Hyrule Warriors’ cast of badasses, Zelda stands out as one of the coolest.

Both games do so much right; I really believe their flaws are greatly overshadowed by their strengths. But both franchises are nearly thirty years old, and it seems they need to mind their pasts and futures in good proportion.

Are Amiibos Worth It?

Since they launched alongside Super Smash Bros for Wii U back in November, Nintendo’s line of Amiibo figurines have been flying off store shelves as quickly as they can be stocked. (In fact, within three weeks 710, 000 units were sold, and for some retailers they’re outselling Skylanders figurines – an established, multiplatform series.) Dedicated collectors are shelling out crazy amounts of money for rare units like Marth or Little Mac, and the next wave of figures in February includes retailer-exclusive characters that sold out as soon as preorders opened.

It’s hard to refute that the Amiibo line is already a success for Nintendo, but are they nothing more than collectibles? What about their in-game use? Should you bother hunting down an army of plastic mascots? I’m here to walk you through it – ask yourself these questions:

Strangest army you'll ever see.
My current lineup of Amiibo soldiers.

1. Do you have the consoles and games that support them?

Currently only three Wii U games support Amiibo features – Super Smash Bros, Hyrule Warriors, and Mario Kart 8 – and of them only Smash utilizes the entire line in a real capacity. This number will quickly increase and include 3DS titles as well, but you’ll need to invest in either a portal for your old 3DS/3DSXL/2DS or a brand new New 3DS to that end.

2. Does the Amiibo-related content interest you?

In Smash, you can train an AI-controlled version of the character you’ve purchased to fight as your ally or your enemy. It’s a very comprehensive process, done right, and one of my favourite aspects of the game. By training and sparring against my quartet of plastic combatants, I think I’ve improved greatly as a Smash player (but still nowhere near the skill of tourney players). But what about the other games?
You can use Amiibos to get materials daily in Hyrule Warriors, especially with the four figures from the Zelda franchise (Link or Toon Link will unlock an exclusive weapon at first; Zelda and Shiek yield rarer materials). That’s the extent of it. If you’re collecting figures for other purposes and still playing Hyrule Warriors (for which I would not blame you – man, that game is deep), you’ll prosper, but I’d be surprised if anyone invested in a $14 figure just to get some materials in one game.
The Mii costumes you unlock by scanning an Amiibo into MK8 (once) are awesome tributes to the characters – but only a handful of figurines from prominent Nintendo-central franchises are included. All you really need is a friend who owns those particular figures to come by and tap them against your Wii U gamepad and you’ve achieved all you can with them.

Which figures work in which games, and what they net you.
Handy compatibility chart by Twitter user @moldyclay

3. Is there a character you like/use enough?

At launch, I grabbed Link because he’s one of my Smash mains and compatible with the three main titles so far. Samus followed a couple days later. Next was Pikachu, who is my wife’s favourite character, because I wanted to train an ally for her to help balance the scales when she obliges me and plays. And when I saw a local listing for a Little Mac figure, I snapped it up for rarity’s sake, and again, because I enjoy playing him. I’d love to do the same for Lucario, but chances are slim with its exclusivity.
All that said, I’m not interested in many of the figures – the Kongs, for example. I don’t use them in Smash, and the Donkey Kong franchise is one of my least favourite of Nintendo’s staples. (Don’t get me started on how much attention he steals from Samus.) There’s no incentive to get them in my case.
So ask yourself – are my mains in Smash Bros included in the Amiibo lineup? Do I yearn to race as a Mii version of myself wearing Captain Falcon’s trademark helmet? If you only use Bowser Jr and you’re not an obsessive-compulsive collector, Amiibos probably don’t have much to offer you right now.

4. Are the figures you want available?

This may be the biggest hurdle for many people: supply. There’s a reason Marth sold out quickly – his fan base, thanks to the tournament scene, is far bigger than the number of Marth Amiibos produced. Retailer-exclusive units like Rosalina and Lucario will be incredibly difficult to come by. You’ll have to rely on outlets like eBay to get the rare figures at this point – and please, for the love of the industry, do not oblige the scalpers and pay too much for these things. Frankly, as much as I like this new system, the figures are not worth much more than their retail cost, and scalpers are out of hand with all of Nintendo’s recent supply-and-demand shortcomings.

Allow me to illustrate. Below is the most expensive single item auction I could find on eBay for Marth at the time of this writing. By the Canadian prices, you could buy about 33 Amiibo figures for the same price as this single rare figure – and there are currently only 29 announced.

Seriously, fuck scalpers like this.
This little guy is selling for more than the retail price of all three waves of figures. Scalpers are a plague on the industry.

Mainstream, recognizable characters are readily available though, like Mario, Luigi, Link, Samus, Kirby, and so on. They may not be the top choice of tourney champions but they may be the characters who bear the most nostalgia for you.

If you answered yes to all four questions, I wish you luck in plucking your figure(s) of choice from the horde of rabid shoppers – and enjoy!