It may be taboo to even bring up such a subject on a board, especially dedicated to those crazy creatures we all know and love. But hey, it's the truth, ya know. Some of these came after the release, and were generally regarded as clones of the game. Some of these came *before*, pulling off monster-training long before Pokémon even tried.
But seriously, somehow though, whenever I play a Pokémon RPG, I can't help but feel I've seen it all in the last game. You start out in a town, you get a grass/fire/water type from someone, you need to get 8 badges, there's this evil team you have to stop along the way, you need to beat the Elite 4+champ, then you catch'em all. And then you can say, "I caught'em all, and all I got was this lousy diploma." It seems as though the series is stuck in an eternal rut - despite all the gameplay advances, the designers just can't seem to come up a plot that at least tries to be different. Well, actually, they can and did, proving so with the Gamecube RPGs, but the main series has not done a thing like that ever. Whether it's a good thing or bad thing, intentional or not, is debatable, and knowing this place and the internet in general, will likely start a flamewar of massive proportions.
But is Pokémon's way the only way to do monster training? Well, I just said that there are others, so obviously, the answer to that question is a resounding "no." Are they good? How do they differ? What kinds of monsters do you capture? Well, in this column, entitled "Compare & Contrast" (C&C for short), that is exactly what we are going to look at. We'll look at five aspects of every monster-training game: the game itself (a short intro), the plot, the battle system, the monsters themselves, and what you get for your hard work. And who knows. Maybe you'll find something that interests you here.
However, the first of these is indisputably the most important game to all of us here. For if it did not exist, none of us may be here on this board talking about catching 'em all, wasting our lives resetting our games and fooling around with clocks for powerful and sparkly critters, or shipping everything with everything else. The game I'm talking about is The Final Fantasy Legend.
Before you ask, no. This game is not related to Final Fantasy at all. It's just trying to make sales off the name, but hey, it's effective! If it kept its original Japanese name, SaGa (full title Makai Toushi SaGa, fuller title even more confusing), no one would give even a half a damn about it. But still, The Final Fantasy Legend. This was the first major portable RPG.
See, the founder of Game Freak, Satoshi Tajiri, wanted Pokémon to be a portable game. However, such a console didn't seem to exist at the time. The Thick-as-a-Brick Gameboy may have been more technologically advanced than the devices used to put man on the moon, but in his opinion, it just wasn't enough. Then, The Final Fantasy Legend came along, and that was enough to convince him it could handle more than just action games.
It's not the best RPG in the world, and reception was initially mixed, but it's got a unique and interesting plot, and is definitely one of the better games on the Gameboy. It even got a remake on the Wonderswan Color alongside Final Fantasies 1, 2, and 4, though it never made it to western shores in any form. It's pretty similar to the NES Final Fantasy games graphics-wise. Nothing special, but it does start looking kinda cool in some places. The music is surprisingly good for a fairly limited engine. The best is the theme played in the Tower - it gives off the perfect vibe for the mood, and is catchy as hell.
We're at the plot of the game, and already, we're at the game's strongest point. In a typical RPG, you'd expect something involving saving the world. Nope, not in FFL. Instead, it revolves around a group of adventurers looking to find Paradise. It's rumored that it lies at the top of a massive tower. Said tower also serves as a link between several worlds. This is a task that many had set out to accomplish before, but all have failed. You initially control someone looking to be the first one to discover Paradise as well the secrets of the tower, and you can recruit up to three more at guilds. There are three classes a character can be in the game: human, mutant, and monster. We'll get to those in a bit.
The Tower, as mentioned, serves as the bridge between worlds. There are several doors in it sealed by the power of Sphere, however, and thus, you need to obtain them to move onward. There are four main worlds in the game: the World of Continent (a medieval land), the World of Ocean (a pirate/sea exploration world), the World of Sky (a steampunk world in the clouds), and the World of Ruin (a post-apocalyptic futuristic world). You may have noticed that the further you go, the more technologically advanced the worlds get. That's an intentional design, as a talking dolphin statue in the tower tells you. Don't ask.
The bosses of each world are known as the four fiends in-game (Ashura, their master, is known as the Archfiend), and are based off the Ssu-Ling of Chinese Mythology. They all are supposed to have these noble characteristics about them, but the versions in The Final Fantasy Legend are the exact opposite! For example, Su-Zaku is supposed to be a selective and noble bird, and all who see him are truly fortunate. Ho-Oh might be loosely based off him. But, the Su-Zaku in The Final Fantasy Legend has destroyed his entire world, and anyone above ground will likely encounter him within two or three steps. That's not selective or noble at all, and you're certainly not fortunate if you encounter him!
The plot is pretty light, but the attention to detail is greater than most modern games. For example, in some of the side-worlds, Ashura and the Ssu-Ling are touted as saviors, the latter occasionally as "four heavenly kings" in the Japanese version. The side-worlds are home to many extremes, either the citizens being too content or too oppressed to do anything. Perhaps most disturbing at all is at the very end, when you meet up with "The Creator", and the purpose of existence is revealed. I could go on and on about this, but I won't, for your sake.
The battle system of the game is simple for the time. Every character has a total of eight slots they can use for storing weapons or abilities. Monsters have only abilities. You randomly encounter enemies - up to three different kinds at a time, and up to nine of each kind in the battle. It never happens anywhere, but the worst case would be 27 enemies at a time.
You can have up to four characters in battle. You initially start with one, but can recruit more at guilds. Humans boost their stats via stat potions and equipment. They come in male and female variety. Mutants also come in male and female. They too, can use equipment, but instead of stat potions, all of their stats (including Defense and Mana) can randomly increase after battle. Furthermore, they have four slots reserved for a variety of abilties they can learn. Monsters have set stats, but are able to eat meat after battle to transform into other monsters. Again, we'll get into the monsters in more detail later.
Stats come into effect like you'd expect. It's actually pretty similar to Pokémon RBY - you've got HP, STR., DEF., AGI., and MANA - the lattermost which serves both as special defense and special attack. HP has a cap of 999, while the others have a cap of 99. There are some exceptions: some bosses break these caps (usually with HP), and Humans can keep drinking stat potions until their primary stats hit around 255 (whereupon they will roll back to 0). It won't show on the stat screen, but it's there. The formula for most attacks is roughly [user's stat x multipler], so someone with 80 STR with a weak weapon actually does more damage than one with 8 STR with a strong weapon. Other weapons are based off AGL., and a tiny selection, as well as several abilities are based off MANA. Some weapons even have their own formula to them.
There's a weird thing to note about FFL - almost every item has a limited amount of uses. I suppose this represents their breaking. It doesn't matter if it's a potion, a shield, a book of spells, or powerful weapon, nothing is safe from this limit. However, the late-game purchasable item ARCANE can restore an item to its initial amount of uses. Abilities have limited uses as well (sort of like PP in Pokémon), but they are fully rechargeable back to their maximum when you stay at an inn. Interestingly, Inns only cost money to restore your HP, not your abilities.
There are eight "elements" in the game: Fire, Ice, Electricity, Poison, Quake, Stone, Para (actually a catch-all for all other status effects from sleep to instant death), and Weapon (physical resistance). Monsters (and Mutants) can have weaknesses to the first three, which get represented by xELEMENT, and they can have resistances to anything, which get represented by oELEMENT, with a few combinations like oDAMAGE (the main three plus Poison), oCHANGE (Para, Stone, and Weapon), and oALL (self-explanatory). Those with weaknesses take additional damage from the matching element, and physical attacks may even kill instantly ("CRITICAL HIT!! whatever is dead."). With a resistance, one takes less damage from physical attacks of the element, and magical attacks have no effect. With both, magical attacks have no effect, but physical attacks do the extra damage and possible instant kills. Weird, I know, but that's how it works.
And that's about all there is to write about the battle system.
And now the moment we've all been waiting for. This is where we find out about the monsters in the game, how they compare to Pokémon, and so on.
As noted, this isn't *really* a monster training game. You never capture the monsters you encounter. Instead, you recruit them at guilds (or even start as one!). These monsters have the exact same skills and stats that a monster found in a random encounter would have. So how do you get other monsters? Randomly after battle, a non-humanoid may drop meat. If your monster eats meat, it may transform into another monster. In the original, there was no way to tell what was going to happen short of having the data right in front of you, but in the WSC version, this is rectified.
So how does meat transformation work? Well, there are 25 "families" of monsters in the game. Each of these has 6 "classes", each of which is assigned an invisible "level". The final two monsters in every family are all the same level. Several families of monsters - usually similar ones - share the same mini-sprite (in the WSC version, they all have different sprites, but the old transformation rules stick all the same). The game takes your mini-sprite "group", and the family of monster meat you've eaten, and uses a lookup table to find the resulting family. To determine the level, it takes the highest level between your monster and the monster whose meat you are eating. It then checks to see if there is a monster at that level in the resulting family. If there is, that is what you become. If not, it checks one level higher for a monster, before going down one level, and so on until a valid monster is reached.
The more attentive reader may have already realized the potential for abuse here: by eating meat in a very specific way, you can reach the second-highest level of monster as early as the first world! Once you reach the final two levels, you will never go down a level again. And it's actually not a bad idea to go higher up the ladder than you logically should for the time - early monsters tend to be liabilities more than anything else.
There's one small catch to transformation - you may find that upon eating meat, nothing happens. You simply stay at the monster you were at. This usually happens as a result of eating a monster in the same mini-sprite group as you (such as a Skeleton eating a Zombie's meat), but can happen with other monsters as well.
Last, but not least, there's the issue of the highest level monsters. The only way to become them is to eat the meat of the revived Fiends, who come very late. There's four of them, which is enough for a four-monster party to all hit the highest level of 14. All final classes have no weaknesses, and they never appear in random encounters. Speaking of Fiend meat, it always works, no matter what monster you are.
All classes of monsters in a family have similar stats. For example, if you check the image on the right, you'll see how the Zombie family's and the Snake family's stats progress. Note the DEF. and AGI. stats in the former. Sometimes, you see things like that, but just because stats are close together at early classes doesn't mean they will stay that way. This rule even applies to the humanoid classes of enemies, by the way.
Like many RPGs, some of monsters have classifications. You've got your undead, reptiles, humanoids, etc. Weapons exist that can do additional damage to enemies with such classifications - or even kill them instantly. Not every monster has a classification, however.
So what kind of monsters do you get to have in the game? A respectable variety, actually. They range from typical RPG monsters such as Goblins, Skeletons, and Dragons, some less common ones like Werewolves, Antlions, and Demons, and stuff that is just plain wacky like Condors, Flies, and Medusas.
Speaking in terms of the best, the reward probably goes to the Slimes: their trademark MELT attack drains HP and ignores all defenses. In fact, they were actually nerfed in the WSC release - MELT (as well as the DARKROSE's DRINK, which is similar) no longer absorbs damage. Don't get the wrong idea though - they're still cheap. Just not "ha ha ha I win" cheap. Other good ones include the Goblins (well-balanced), the Golems (lots of resistances and variety), Bulls (physical powerhouses), and Dragons (because they're always good in RPGs).
For more detailed information on the monsters, refer to the additional information section for this article on my user page.
There are no rewards for obtaining all the monsters in the game. You aren't even able to in the original - as there are four monsters you are unable to transform into (actually, five - though a guild has one of the monsters you can't become). Furthermore, there isn't a feature to keep track of them in the first place. However, in the WSC version, that issue is fixed, and there is also a bestiary - which records the monsters you transform into. I don't know whether there's a reward for finishing this, but if FF1 and FF2 were any indication, it's probably nothing more than a star or something. Also, there is a new game+ mode, which allows you to start the game over with your bestiary intact.
Either way, monsters are a huge asset in battle anyway...if you use the right ones. An all-monster party can either laugh at the final boss, or get beaten into the ground by everything.
One last thing for those who read this far - the explanation given above for monster transformation is actually flawed. It works most of the time though, and is much easier to understand, hence, my using it. To summarize the real system real quick - there are two invisible levels - monster and target, with no "one above" rule. If you want the full story, you can check out the additional info section.
So there you have it. Here's where we'll sum up everything for those with short attention spans, or those who think I made a pretty big mess above. How is the game similar to Pokémon, and how is it different? That's what this section is all about.
- You can control monsters.
- The stats. They reek of similarity to RBY's.
- Abilities having set uses, like PP.
And uhh...that's about it. I guess it's better to look at how it's different from Pokémon in this scenario. You don't have to control the monsters, you never capture them, and pretty much everything else is different. Not even the funny stat progression applies (although it does exist in a few cases - Nidoran F and Nidorina, for example). But hey, like I said, if it wasn't for it, Pokémon might not have gotten made (at least not so soon), so it deserves that much. Things will get more interesting when we start comparing the various other monster training games to each other.
"System Error" is some guy who blogs a lot on the Bulbagarden Forums who was offered a position of article writing here. Among the things he believes are awesome are blogging, entertaining people, jumping in like a crazy man to try new things, tacos (then again, who doesn't think they're awesome?), and The Miz.
COMING UP NEXT: Actual monster training which came before (then ripped us off).