by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Randomizers are growing more and more popular than ever before. The Final Fantasy IV Free Enterprise randomizer is a massive community of people that are running, racing, grouping up and improving the overall knowledge of a game we all love – Final Fantasy IV. But what makes these randomizers successful and fun, and what makes them a little more frustrating? Some of my favorite games of all time have randomizers that I run at least once a week, and some of them I try, but just can’t seem to get into, no matter how much I love the base game. The best part of these games to me is being able to challenge something I love in a new, exciting way. If you had told me ten, fifteen years ago that I was going to say, “Boy, I sure am glad Edward is in my party”, I probably would have laughed until I had a hernia. But Edward, equipped with a Spoon Dagger and the Adamant Armor? He’s carried me to glorious victory. So what do these games need to be interesting and fun? Please note this is not an all-encompassing list, because some games can do a lot with a little (Dragon Warrior).
- A plethora of interesting items, chests, characters, and key items: One of the things that makes a randomizer fun, is having a different party each and every time you play. This can be changed for games with smaller casts, by randomizing their stats/skillsets. But never knowing quite who you have to work with can really make these exciting. Key Item swapping can also be a wonderful challenge, provided you have a decent way to get around the world and find them. Final Fantasy IV and EarthBound do a pretty good job of this (as long as you’re good at teleporting in tiny areas). Each treasure chest/gift box can have just about anything in them, and as long as the game will permit you to deal with threats without being 100% reliant on this, it will be great. This last point I’ll get to when I discuss games in particular. Having tons of potential routes, or being armed with the knowledge that every single playthrough will have different paths and options? That does it for me, friends. Super Metroid+Zelda 3 is another great example of this, even if it does make me howl with anger more often than not.
- A game that does not require X character for Y event: I’ve been wondering why there hasn’t been a Breath of Fire 1 randomizer for a while now, and I started to consider the complexity fo the coding. Karn has a special power that needs him to have specific party members to access his transformation powers. So if even one of them is locked behind an event/hidden/not even in the run, his whole purpose of being on the team could be useless. Even worse, there are items that would be potentially locked away forever because you can’t turn into Shin. I don’t think the Dragon Shrines would be too bad to randomize, but you could not do a lot of Key Shuffling without the ability to fly, and I cannot help but think it would break the game somehow starting with it. Now requiring certain characters for events in the late game isn’t bad, if it’s a nice wide cast (say, FFVI), when you know they will all be there. But that in particular for Breath of Fire warranted being discussed, I think.
- A game that flows from the action, not cutscenes: Dialogue cutscenes that don’t cut away to AMVs/etc are fine – Lufia 2, Dragon Quest 1-4, EarthBound, Final Fantasy IV, V, and VI all do this just fine. But I imagine having actual cutscenes that are required would create problems and slow-down, not to mention coding issues. The story needs to be focused on the action in the game, not what you see in video clips. In addition, not needing to know a whole lot about the story helps, and watching a bunch of cutscenes just slows everything down. I don’t know a lot about Crystallis, for example. I played it as a kid, but I don’t know it as well as I do basically every other RPG that there’s a randomizer for. But I was able to just jump in, read the help file and get started. I wasn’t bogged down by having to watch a bunch of stuff, I just had to figure out the route I was going to take.
So what Randomizers are doing this well for me, and which are not? There are too many to list, and they’re very easy to find on the internet. An honorable mention for me is the Dragon Quest Randomizers. They’re incredible, and especially Dragon Warrior 1, does a lot with a little. It randomizes the world map, where the key items are, et cetera. It can be insanely hard though since the game doesn’t exactly go out of its way to help you find anything. So it helps to have prior knowledge of the world around you. Knowing where the vanilla items can drop will be a godsend, and I still highly recommend it. Breath of Fire 2 is another really sound one that offers a lot of complexity and challenge when I can get it to work.
- Final Fantasy IV: Free Enterprise: Is this a surprise? FFIV FE is the undisputed leader in randomized gameplay, and that’s what Super Metroid/Zelda 3 on the table. It’s a game that I love turned into something I normally do not enjoy – open world exploration. Every single run of FF4 FE is different, from the party I use, the gear I have, and the route I take to get to the end. Plus, it’s made me a better Final Fantasy IV player and has given me the courage to speedrun this, with the goal of having enough knowledge of the game’s mechanics to try and speedrun the base game. It has brought immeasurable joy into my life, with a great community, and a fun, exciting new way to play one of my all-time favorites. It’s regularly updated, the community is active, and I never feel stupid asking them questions. I have learned something new every time I’ve livestreamed FF IV FE, and that’s a great thing. (5/5, 100% recommend)
- EarthBound Randomizer: Now, I love EarthBound, it’s my all-time favorite game, next to Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals. However, the Keysanity and even the Vanilla Randomizer are so frustrating that they make me physically angry. That’s no easy feat, I’m pretty calm most of the time (unless I’m on a losing streak in MTG Arena – that’s another story). But what really makes this one a bit harder for me, is the Gift Box Randomization. More often than not, I get consumables in my first chests and reach a point very quickly where I not only cannot fight any of the regular enemies, I cannot proceed because I also can’t afford to buy anything. I’m not so good at manipulating RNG and things like that, so I just die and die and die. I had a livestream where I died to the first enemy outside of Ness’ house seven times in a row. I consider myself pretty good at EarthBound normally, but without extreme knowledge of the speedrun, I felt like there was just no way I could proceed. Love the game, love the randomizer, I do not feel smart or good enough to run it.
- Crystalis Randomizer: I’m still very new to Crystalis, but even with that, I feel like I can actually run the game. It’s a classic NES RPG, and it’s not the most complex, but it still has lots of items, key items, and events to get through in order to see it through til the end. The community is also incredibly welcoming and helpful, and the website has tips and helpful advice to get you started on top of that. It also offers tips on how to use some of the glitches to make the most out of your start (shop glitch, as a prime example). I’m still new to this one, and I’ve begun an offline playthrough before I start streaming attempts, but I will. I can promise you that. If you love the classic RPG, but want a little something more out of it, here you go.
- Final Fantasy VI: Beyond Chaos: Final Fantasy VI: Beyond Chaos is a randomizer that I have not completed for a few reasons, but I love it anyway. This is the hardest randomizer I’ve played, outside of FFIV FE’s Cata runs. It can randomize an overwhelming number of things, from enemy names, packs, skills, creating new skills for characters, removing cutscenes, randomizing the final dungeon, who can do what, who can learn what, and so so much more. It has secret codes, new sprites, gives items new skills, and randomizes the little things (Blitz Inputs, Rages, The Zozo Clock Tower). It’s probably the most complex randomizer I’ve played, and since it’s not a game that relies on Key Items too heavily, you have to go through in the normal flow of things. It’s harder than other Final Fantasy VI randomizers, but it’s far more exciting. It also comes with a handy printout of who can do what, so you can prepare for them unless you don’t like to peek (I usually don’t). The only major downside for me, is I’ve been in spots where unless I hardcore grind, I couldn’t get around fights that were dealing 9999 every hit. They felt unwinnable (but weren’t. It would just require far more time than I wanted to invest).
Now, while I can’t do more than point you out to the fact they exist, the particulars have to be found out on your own – I do love these and want more people to enjoy randomizers with me.