Square has utilized numerous skill and magic systems for their games over the years – a new system for each title, more or less. The Esper and the Materia systems are my personal favorites, and since they’re relatively similar, I’m lumping them together in one post. I’m in charge, so it’s allowed.
Espers and Materia added multiple layers to Final Fantasy VI and VII respectively. First, you had to find the Esper (or Materia – this is getting tiresome). Some were easy to find, either bestowed by the plot or purchased in stores, while others were almost absurd in their difficulty to obtain. Once discovered, you could choose who equipped the Esperia (that’s better), allowing you to customize your characters. And each Mesper granted certain side effects – Espers actually granted bonuses on level ups, while most Materia reduced physical stats while improving magical ones.
Of course, eventually all your Final Fantasy VI characters learned every spell. Well, mine did. And eventually you mastered all of your Materia. Although, honestly, I actually never did that. How embarrassing. Regardless, these completionist tasks added depth to games that were, for the most part, not all that difficult without these little personal challenges.
I think my favorite part about Mesperia was that they were completely optional. In Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XII, learning new abilities was integrated into the leveling process, albeit in interesting ways. Esterias could be completely ignored, if you wished, or just given some cursory attention. Or you could attempt to obtain all the possible Materipers currently available to you at certain points in the game and master them right then.
Mostly, I suppose I liked the fact that you weren’t simply purchasing spells in stores, nor were you bound to learn spells only by reaching specific level benchmarks. Materia and Espers were a system separate from the leveling and equipment portions of the game, and they were a system crafted well enough to supplement the game, instead of make me never want to play Final Fantasy VIII again. Yes, that’s a shot at Guardian Forces.
Dare I say it? Espers and Materia – they don’t make ’em like they used to. (What? I had to end the post somehow.)