Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Final Fantasy Series's Limit Break Names

Behold, that most sacred and rare of creatures: a short rant.

Desperation Attack. Limit Break. Trance. Overdrive. EX Mode. And, inexplicably, Quickening. Why exactly does the Final Fantasy series have half a dozen names for more or less the same gameplay concept?

I don’t know why I’m so hard on Final Fantasy naming (recall my old rants on calling their lightning spells “Thunder” and on the stupid suffixes -ara and -aga (and nowadays, there’s -ada, which is just as bad)) in particular,* but this bugs me. I mean, look, in fairness, the nature of the ability does change a little from game to game, sometimes. In FF6, the Desperation Attack had a probability of activating when a character was at very low HP. In FF7, on the other hand, there was a Limit Break gauge that continually built up as the character got damaged, and once it was filled the character could use their Limit Break, although they didn’t have to--they could just kinda sit on it for a while until the player wanted to use it. FF9’s Trance was less a special ability than a mode in which, for a short period of time, a character’s abilities were enhanced, which was, like FF7, gradually built up to from taking damage. And so on and so forth. But these variations are ultimately just small changes to the same concept, that of special, climatic powers being unlocked in (supposedly) desperate situations. Naming them differently as though they were completely different concepts would be like deciding you couldn’t call a black cat the same kind of animal as a cat with white fur. The cosmetic differences aren’t enough to change the fact that they’re both cats.

I just don’t get it. What purpose does the name change serve, really? Why the desire to differentiate at all? I can understand Square’s wish to name FF7’s Limit Breaks differently since FF6’s Desperation Attacks were not really a well-defined part of the game, and were only rarely seen (I daresay most playthroughs of FF6 don’t see a Desperation Attack trigger even once), but after FF7 cemented the concept in Final Fantasy gameplay and gave it a very functional and personalized name, why keep renaming it later? Particularly since SquareEnix would eventually come back to the Limit name in its semi-Final-Fantasy-related Kingdom Hearts series. It just seems needless and silly.

* It’s not like plenty of other RPGs don’t also have stupidly-named spells and abilities. The Legend of Dragoon called one of its huge plot weapons the Psychadelic Bomb and tried to pass it off as serious, and don’t even get me started on the naming of abilities and spells in the Shin Megami Tensei series.**

** Actually, on second thought, I SHOULD get started on that. Thanks for the rant idea, me. Oh, no problem, man! I love your work. Well, except for those AMV rants. Those’re totally gay.


  1. IIRC weren't trances actually a plot point in FF9


      Zidane first goes Trance and Steiner is shocked, talking about it being some great power. Black Waltz 3 pisses off Vivi and the kid goes Trance. Mog goes Trance and becomes an Eidolon. Kuja learns how to Trance and blows up Terra.

      It's as much of a plot point as FF mechanics gets.

    2. What Ecc said.

      Although, Ecc, you could also sorta count Limit Breaks from FF7 as being plot-acknowledged since we see some in that crappy Advent Children movie, and Cloud finishes off the mental embodiment of Sephiroth's influence over him with a Limit Break. So that's sort of kinda almost like the FF9 plot recognition.

  2. I might suggest that the different names coincide with differing mechanics. VI's are pretty much the only true desperate options. VII is a similar idea, but actually practical. VIII builds in VII. IX is a full on Bonus Round that make the user slightly more than human, and is described in-game along the lines of OMGWTFBBQ. Overdrives aren't necessarily tied to taking damage or losing momentum, so limits need not be broken. Hell, it's easily closer to athletic showboating than a Desperation Attack.

    Quickenings. Blah. Subverts the specialization encouraged by the License Board, and 90% of them are semi-generic explosions that have no relation to the user's abilities, regardless of how you build them. Pass.

    13 has an ultimate attack unique to each character, but they're not classified in a special way, and have no restrictions on their use once learned, so that game lacks a connection to the limit break concept.

    In short, the concept is used differently enough from game to game to warrant a unique title, and the two games that don't change it up notably share the Limit Break name. A cat is a cat, but a lion is not a panther.

    1. But is that difference really as great as the difference between a lion and panther? To me, that slight change in window dressing is too small to warrant a different title. Spells in Final Fantasy 6 are power borrowed from the Goddess Statues, while in FF7 spells are using the knowledge of the Cetra encoded in Materia to manipulate the Lifestream's energy, and in most other FFs it's just an undefined power of indeterminate origins. But they're all called "Magic" regardless.

    2. That becomes a case of context differences vs. mechanics differences. Show an uninitiated person magic across the FF series, amd they'll see a single skillset across the board. Show them Desperation Limit Overdrives(tm), and they'll see different takes in a single idea without any commentary.

      Setting aside Trance for being a Mode rather than an attack, and Quickenings for being utter nonsense that jabe nothing to do with Limits or anything at all, X if nothing else distances itself from Limit Breaks with the various criteriae you can set, changing the concept as well. Really, the similarities die once IX shows up. But really, it's up to interpretation, so I don't exactly care to force it down your throat. It's not like I disagree with you more than marginally.

  3. Maybe, just maybe, the simplest answer is Square just have to do it (changing the names of the same concepts).

    I see this pattern (or rule) applied in almost if not every concept in FF. The most notably concept is "Summon Creature". They have Guardian Force, Aeon, Eidolon, and so on. It's not like they repeating same concept over and over with just altering the names, but more to it: they just HAVE TO do that. For what? I'm not really sure, but may be it's to distinct terminology among FF series. You know, when you said "an Aeon", everyone will instantly know that you're talking about FF X.

    And something is bugging me intensely. Advent Children movie is that bad? Seriously, "crappy"?

    1. The different names for the Summoning Monsters doesn't bother me, though, because that has legitimate plot-related reasons. In several games, they're Summoning Monsters, and as such they don't have really any relevance to the world and plot besides just being called in during battle. But In FF6, Espers are an actual race of magical creatures in the world, a tremendously big part of the game's plot and specifically situated on that world. Likewise, Guardian Forces in FF8 have a specific, tangible place and purpose in that world, and that's also the case of FF10's Aeons, and each of these differently-named-yet-very-similar magical creatures are distinctly different and location-specific versions of this concept. There is a REASON to call them something different, because they ARE different, they are actually, demonstrably separate entities most of the time when their racial title changes. It's like Cid--there's a Cid (or Sid) in most Final Fantasies, but though the concept is more or less the same, as is the name, you'd never actually think that, say, Cid Highwind would be the same individual as Cidolfus Orlandu or the nut from FF4. They're individual entities, just as Espers, Summoned Monsters, Guardian Forces, Eidolons, Aeons, and so on are (usually) individual conceptualized groups.

      Well, maybe crappy is a strong word for FF7AC, but it sure as hell ain't good. The overall plot of it is rather convoluted and requires a lot of waving of the Plot Wand to make it work, it's STILL ultimately all about a confrontation with the incredibly lame and overdone Sephiroth, most of the important cast of the game are no more than cameos whose presence is both forced and somewhat unexplained (if you're gonna drop Barret, Yuffie, Red XIII, Cait Sith, Vincent, and Cid from the plot, then drop'em from the plot, don't half-ass it by having them show up to do things on screen for 30 seconds and then just sit around), the new villains are painfully generic and empty, Tseng and especially Rufus really shouldn't be alive, Tifa gets beaten by some weak punk thanks to a daft weapon pulled from the same creative ass that gave us Gunblades and Keblades, Cloud's entire character development is basically him taking 5 steps backwards from where he was at the end of FF7 so that he can use the movie's time to retrace those 5 steps and come back to where he should have already been in the first place, and the majority of the story's pacing seems to just be finding excuses for (admittedly awesome) special effects and fight scenes. There's little to nothing of real value to take from the entire movie.

    2. Wow.

      I mean WOW (again). Hehe.

      I didn’t notice that kind of perception. I haven’t ... before you pointed that out. And, hell, yeah it’s kinda make sense. The plot is the main flaw, right? But you did admit that the fighting scenes are awesome. Just no real value if we see it as a entire movie, though. Okay. Got it.

      May be you should write reviews from animes too, like Shingeki no Kyojin and stuff. I’d love to hear your thoughts about that happening anime. (One of my selfish request again).

    3. You're a very complimentary person. Not that I'm complaining. Yeah, the plot is the main flaw I mentioned, along with the character development for Cloud being one of those really annoying cases where a character has to forget what they've already learned so they can relearn it, for no reason beyond the writers just not having any idea of what else to do with the character. Very annoying. But yeah, all the window-dressing for the movie is great--cool fights, good visuals, decent music, great special effects, etc. Just not anything that stays with you, keeps your mind turning, which is what I really value.

      I've thought about blogging about stuff other than RPGs. I'm sure it'd be fun enough. But I spend enough time on this blog that I don't really want to juggle 2 at once, and while I feel pretty confident about my perspective on RPGs, I don't think I'm especially more qualified to review TV shows, cartoons, animes, movies, and so on than any of the many other reviewers out there. Still, who knows, perhaps some day.

      Thanks for the comments, as always.