Game Changers: Volume 2 – Final Fantasy III

For those who were playing RPGs in the Super Nintendo era, few would deny that Final Fantasy VI, released in 1994 and known to North Americans at the time as Final Fantasy III, was a remarkable game. Many still cite it as an old favourite. The game featured top-notch sprites, a huge step up from the comparatively diminutive figures in Final Fantasy IV (and V, though most North American didn’t know it at the time). It also had an impressive cast and storyline, and still stands out among Final Fantasy games for not having a single obvious lead character who never leaves the party. Yet there is another tiny addition to the game which was to have a lasting impact on the very way RPG fans play games. That tiny detail, so easily overlooked, is the in-game tutorial.

Remember when it was still III and not VI?
Remember when it was still III and not VI?

Perhaps some of our “older” readers — and by this I mean anyone who, like myself, remembers the NES and early SNES era — would join me for a moment on a trip down memory lane. All of you young’uns whose gaming experience doesn’t stretch quite so far back will have to use your imaginations. You’ve just gotten a new game, perhaps as a Christmas or birthday present or maybe you saved up your allowance. You open up the box (they were made of cardboard back the, like PC games still are. Remember that?), pull out the game cart, and hurry to plug it into the slot and start playing. Maybe you paused a moment to glance at the cover of the instruction booklet, but if you were like the majority of gamers, you quickly tossed it aside and only looked for it again if things were going terribly wrong and you desperately needed to figure out what you should do next.

It is also a well documented fact that unless you were absolutely meticulous about keeping instruction booklets in the game boxes or reserving a special storage place for them, they would inevitably be sucked into an alternate dimension and vanish forever. Needless to say, this disappearing act so common for instructions could be most vexing, especially for players who happened to have rented a game and found themselves in need on some help with game controls.

Though Final Fantasy IV spared a few moments to explain Kain’s Jump skill, and Final Fantasy V had tutorials that never saw the light of day in North America, Final Fantasy VI has the distinct honour of having employed an actual tutorial, hosted by a Moogle no less, to explain the use of Gau’s Leap/Rage technique. And it’s a good thing too. Otherwise players everywhere might have had a fright when they selected “Leap” and Gau jumped at a monster and disappeared, possibly for several battles. The simple tutorial saved players from worry and also explained the way Gau learns skills from monsters, something which he could only do on the Veldt. It was simple, short, and straightforward — and much more palatable than the explanation in the instruction manual.

Thank goodness for the tutorial or Gau's 'Leap' would have been distressing.
Thank goodness for the tutorial or Gau’s ‘Leap’ would have been distressing.

As game mechanics became increasingly more complex, so too did the in-game tutorial become mroe valuable. Following on the heels of Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VII featured a detailed in-game tutorial to explain the functioning of materia, and most Final Fantasy game since have included tutorials in one form or another, as do the bulk of RPGs. Examples range from Disgaea to The World Ends With You.

It also bears mentioning that such tutorial can have a downside, particularly if they’re not skippable and it’s not your first playthrough. Obligatory tutorials can, unfortunately, leave gamers screaming imprecations at their screens because they “already bloody know all this stuff” (or variations thereof). And some games can go a little overboard with it. For example, in Fire Emblem 7 (Rekka no Ken, published here as simply Fire Emblem) the entire first section of the game, Lyndis’s chapter, is a series of mini-tutorials, which are not really necessary for anyone familiar with the conventions of tactical RPGs. Such instances aside, more often than not, in-game tutorials have been a force for good, helping gamers to quickly get into their games without requiring a prolonged inspection of the instructions. And while there are other early games that may have employed the technique,  Final Fantasy VI stands out as one of the earliest and more influential RPGs to have done so.

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