So, which is better? As this is my first article for GameGrin I thought, what better way of throwing my head straight on to the chopping block than by trying to settle an argument that has been rampaging on for more than a decade, right?
Firstly, I know that many of you die hard Final Fantasy fans out there will be asking “Why Final Fantasy IX and not Final Fantasy VII? Are you crazy?” and though my sanity can be called in to question over many things, there is, in this instance, a simple explanation. Final Fantasy 9 (writing the number in numerals is already becoming tedious) was the first Final Fantasy game that I ever played, much like Ocarina was the first Zelda game that I ever played. Since they both hold a special place in my heart for that reason, I thought that they would make for the best and most fair comparison.
As a big fan of both, it still amazes me that there is such a fierce rivalry as to whether the Final Fantasy or Zelda series are better. A simple Google search of “is Zelda better than Final Fantasy” (or vice versa in the interests of fairness) brings up forum after forum of gamers locking horns over which they prefer.
So, how does one begin to compare two such standout games as Final Fantasy 9 and Ocarina Of Time? I suppose the most logical starting point has to be the storyline. As we all know, any RPG worth it’s salt has to have a great storyline. Why else are you going to sacrifice your social life and possibly your relationship whilst you immerse yourself and take your playing time into triple figures, trying to painstakingly 100% the game? For those of you who haven’t had the immense pleasure of playing either of these games, I’ll provide a brief synopsis of their respective storylines.
In Ocarina you play as a character called Link, the Hero of Time who is charged with the task of rescuing Princess Zelda and stopping the evil Ganondorf from conquering the land of Hyrule before becoming it’s evil overseer. You battle your way through dungeons, puzzles and various side quests en route to the final showdown against Ganondorf/Ganon.
In FF9 (I won’t shorten it again, honestly) you start as Zidane, a bandit working with a group of thieves masquerading as a theatre group. They intend on kidnapping Princess Garnet after performing for her birthday, no less! What they don’t know, however, is that the Princess has already decided to escape and stow aboard the theatre ship as she suspects that her mother Queen Brahne is plotting a war against the other nations on the land of Gaia.
There's no doubting that both storylines sound thrilling and adventurous enough for you to want to immediately jump in and immerse yourself from the opening credits but which is the more gripping from the start? In my opinion it simply has to be FF9. That easy, you say? It is, for one simple reason; the FMV (or full motion video) scenes. In Ocarina, there were no FMVs and the cutscenes looked no different from the game itself. Whilst that isn't necessarily a bad thing, if you compare them to the stunning FMV sequences from FF9, there's only one winner. That said, I can appreciate that FF9 always had the advantage because, being on the PlayStation and therefore being on a CD, FMVs flowed seamlessly and smoothly. In contrast, the Nintendo 64 used cartridges which made the use of FMVs next to impossible.
So, 1-0 FF9 it would seem.
When FF9 was first released to us Europeans in 2001 on the PlayStation, I remember being blown away by how fantastic the FMVs really were. Director Hiroshi Kuwabara really did make you feel like you were playing the main character(s) in a movie right from the the first sequence where Princess Garnet is on a small, creaky boat in the middle of the ocean, a huge storm raging and mammoth waves chucking the boat around like a child at playtime. All of a sudden...Garnet awakens from her daydream. Looking out of the window she sees blue skies and the sun beaming down as the birds fly off the windowsill and...well, you get my drift.
After storyline, the most important thing in any RPG is the combat system. It's all well and good having an Oscar winning story but if the combat is disjointed, clunky, boring or just plain terrible (a la Lost Odyssey) then you're going to struggle to maintain your interest in the game.
I'll start with FF9 this time, in the interests of fairness and balance in all areas of this article.
Those of you who've played any Final Fantasy title will know that the combat system up until FF12 (or FF11 if you played the MMO) was much the same. If it ain't broke don't fix it, right? It consists of a turn-based menu combat system with your options ranging from physical attacks to magic and item usage. The thing I like the most about this system is that it's complex in its simplicity. Anybody who knows how to read could quite easily jump straight into a battle and use physical attack after physical attack with a little bit of black magic thrown in for good measure.
The complexity lies in the player's ability to learn and exploit the enemies' weaknesses and (similar to the Pokémon games) use the appropriate magic or summons in order to inflict the most damage. The best example of this is when you fight Soulcage in the Lifa Tree. Those more astute/experienced Final Fantasy gamers would know that as Soulcage is of the undead class (having used the ability 'Scan' of course!), you can simply cast the 'Life' spell or use an elixir on Soulcage to kill it instantly. As 'Life' heals the dead, as does the elixir (as well as granting you your full compliment of magic power) it’s therefore logical to assume that it would take life from the undead, isn’t it? Indeed it does do just that. Simple, yet genius.
The combat system in Ocarina is more of a real time, hack ‘n slash battle system. Unlike FF9, you don’t “enter a battle” per se, you just fight enemies as you come across them. Swinging your sword like the proverbial bull in a china shop and occasionally using your shield to defend against those pesky deku nut firing beasties. Fairly generic, thus far. The thing for me that sets Ocarina’s combat system aside from similar systems in other RPGs is the targeting system that was implemented. When you come across enemies in Ocarina, you can choose to fight in one of two ways. If you prefer a more gung ho approach to battle then you can choose to run in, sword held high above your head and repeatedly mash the slashy slashy, stabby stabby button to wreak havoc upon your enemies. Ocarina also introduced the first person mode for ranged weapons such as the bow and the hookshot to make it far more accurate and realistic feeling when firing at enemies.
Alternatively, if you prefer a calmer and more calculated approach to life or death situations then you can instead use the aforementioned targeting system. When you come across enemies, you press the “Z” button on your pad and a target appears over the desired enemy. The screen automatically adopts a letterbox appearance which provides more focus on the battle. The piece de resistance however lies within the movement of Link when entering the targeting mode. Rather than being able to move freely, you now strafe in your desired direction whilst always facing your enemy. Add to that the ability to backflip in order to avoid enemy attacks as well as performing a jumping power attack which inflicts much more damage than a regular swing and you have a fairly basic yet very nifty, coordinated and finely tuned approach to slaying your would be foes.
So which is the better combat system? There’s no doubting that they both work brilliantly within their respective titles and each provides an equal level of satisfaction. In my opinion though, Ocarina just edges it. I could debate with myself all day on FF9 having a lot more depth and freedom, with Ocarina feeling more satisfying when you’ve slain an enemy by inputting all the commands yourself, rather than clicking some words on a menu and watching the fight unfold. For me though, it comes down to one thing. Flow. Though I love the FF9 combat system (in case you hadn't already gathered), the game did sometimes feel like it was stuttering and stalling when you had to wait for the cut scene to run it’s course before every battle you had. Whilst it can be quite thrilling to begin with when the screen momentarily fades to black and that iconic battle music begins, it can soon become rather tedious. On the flipside, since the enemies in Ocarina were pre-programmed there’s no loading time for battles. Instead, you just fought enemies as you encountered them. This made the gameplay flow far more smoothly and maintained the same pulse-increasing moments after hours of play that you got from your very first battle.
What an equaliser for Ocarina! That brings this epic battle of the RPGs back on level terms at 1-1.
And on that bombchu...sorry, bombshell, that’s it for this week. Please leave your comments below and be sure to check back for the final showdown in this clash of the RPGs to find out which will emerge victorious!