Editorial: I Love Shiny Things (Like Materia)

As I confessed on the last podcast, I have been skimping ever so slightly on our site play-through of Final Fantasy VII in favour of Final Fantasy IX. In most respects I find that the later game is simply superior. The graphics, side content, pace and music are simply better in my opinion. Yet there is one area in which VII excels and stands head and shoulders (and spiky hair) above the others, and that is the battle system. I am specifically thinking about the Materia system.

I would have to consider myself to be something of an RPG traditionalist. While I do not shy away from new concepts, I really enjoy the traditional menu-based, turn-based combat, with tried and true abilities such as elemental attacks, cure spells, revive, steal, etc. More often than not, though, games that feature this classic form of combat also pigeonhole characters into very specific roles, with a very linear leveling path. In many other games, Character X always is Class Y and at certain intervals will learn abilities A, B and C. Final Fantasy IV is a good example of this. You simply cannot let Rosa whoop some ass with some black magic, you cannot let Rydia steal items from enemies, etc. Their roles and abilities are pre-set and firm.

Shiny, shiny, shiny ...
Shiny, shiny, shiny ...
I love the Materia system because I can use my beloved abilities, and I can embrace the RPG stereotypes (such as making my female characters heal) but I have the freedom to customize their skills to the nth degree. I can slap a Steal materia on Aerith so she can do something useful when she does not have to heal, I can load Cloud up with HP Plus, Cover and Counter materias so that he can tank, and then easily transfer those to Barret instead when he is in my party, foo’. I can give characters the elemental materia that seems to suit their personality best a la Chrono Trigger.

To me, the Materia system strikes a pleasant balance between classic JRPG abilities and classes, and the modern gamer’s desire to control and customize their characters. Also, the system is not so complicated or omnipresent that it distracts from the rest of the game.

Honorable mentions must go to the Grandia, Disgaea, and Shadow Hearts games.

13 comments

  1. I have to admit that the materia system is one of the reasons why I look back at FFVII so fondly still. The materia and Midgar. And One Winged Angel. I agree with Nobuo on both fronts about his music on this one:
    -FFIX is his greatest overall work (and favourite FF)
    -One Winged Angel is his single greatest piece.

  2. Is so!

    I will say, though, I do like being able to hope around between classes. I’ve always said that I love the job system, and materia seems like a even more fine-grained (but still not maddeningly-so) version of that. It was actually to the point where that was one of my largest problems with my playthrough of FFIX. At the time, the only other RPGs I’d played were FFVII and FFVIII, so it was a little frustrating that I couldn’t turn Vivi into a tank, no matter how many hours I worked on it.

    I’m still not sure which I like better, though, materia or the sphere grid from FFX. Materia’s more hot-swappable, but it was nice having an entire party of characters who’d traversed the entire sphere grid. It was like being able to equip every job simultaneously. Took some of the challense out of the last part of the game, but damn was it funny watching Yuna smack enemies for 99999 damage with her little stick.

  3. Yeah, IX is technically, musically, and thematically better than VII. It’s more consistent as well. I think I like Midgar more than any one part of IX, and I like One Winged Angel more than any one song from IX, but overall, IX easily takes the cake. VII shows that it was Square’s first foray into 3D RPGs. Still ridiculously impressive and a personal favourite, but I’m with Ginia on this one.
    Also, I played VII before IX, so it’s not nostalgia talking.

  4. Ethan likes IX better, therefore VII is the game that is actually better. Thank you, Ethan.

    Other things Ethan likes include: The PSPGo, Oliver Motok, and People-Putting-Cocks-In-His-Butt.

  5. I’m sure Stephen Fry would like the PSPGo and Oliver Motok as well! And who doesn’t like the things Stephen Fry likes?

  6. Waaaaaay wrong! FFVII trumps IX handily, though IX is still a splendid game.

  7. I loved the materia system too which is why it’s so frustrating that the game is so easy. I find it incredible that the system could be so well made in the same game that the difficulty curve looks like a stoop. Or maybe it’s because of the materia that the curve is like that.

    I had the same problem with Wild Arms 5; the battle system is possibly one of the best I’ve ever seen but the enemies are so brain dead stupid it made the hex and medium systems feel pointless.

  8. Ginia I love you for this. Square Enix if you’re listening or reading or doing anything remotely positive with your industry please read this. MATERIA IS THE BEST FUCKING SYSTEM EVER! Please give us the Materia System back in a game that isn’t Crisis Core, Final Fantasy XV Materia System Returns. That is what I want.

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