Few fanbases throughout the history of gaming have been as loyal as Final Fantasy players. For a quarter of a century, we have come to love and expect certain things when a game bears the name.
An epic story. Memorable characters. Music that stays in our heads long after the game is over and gets immediately added to our playlist.
Twenty five years of classic moments has contributed to a series that has shipped over a hundred million units, not the least of which was the most recent entry in Final Fantasy XIII, which has moved 6.2 million copies. When we spend our money on a Final Fantasy game, we expect greatness.
Our patience, however, has been tested over the past couple years.
As time and technology continue to progress hand in hand, Final Fantasy has changed. We have come a long way from the basic tale of four 8-bit sprites who set out to save the world. We have fully-rendered 3D characters who speak, laugh, cry and curse. Emotion is no longer interpreted in games; it can be expressed and shared. Text-based Dungeons & Dragons variations are now deep and complex combat systems that can take weeks to master.
However, depth should never be sacrificed for a simple pretty surface. While the last two installments of Final Fantasy have been nothing short of breathtaking to behold in HD, fans and critics alike have called the soul of the series into question. SquareEnix has never shied away from stating their intentions of making the latest Final Fantasies the best-looking games on the market, and in that regard, they have certainly succeeded. What troubles the fans (including myself, to a certain extent) is that the business end of things could eventually overshadow the artistic endeavor. Yeah, I get it – it’s a hackneyed and old argument about The Man taking over the things you love, but we’ve got reason to be on edge.
Final Fantasy XV is coming up. Take a minute to consider that. A fifteenth installment of a role-playing game series, none of which (save for the spin-offs and direct sequels) are related to one another with the exception of some common elements like chocobos and spells to be cast. The latest rumor making the rounds is that FFXV will be unveiled to the public at this year’s E3, and as it happens, this year is the 25th anniversary of the first game’s release. With such a monumental milestone on the horizon, and an equally worthless opinion, I’m going to give you my dumb two cents and tell you what I think should make up the fifteenth journey, as well as what needs to be done in order to not start driving away a fan base that has quite literally grown up with the series.
Wash The Taste of Final Fantasy XIV Out of Our Mouths
There is really no way around this: Final Fantasy XIV Online was a bed-shitting of astounding proportion. Any magic SquareEnix tried to recapture from Final Fantasy XI, their last venture at an MMORPG, was lost and left a sizeable chunk of people out in the cold, along with fifty less dollars in their wallets. Up until this point, every main entry in the FF franchise received near-universal acclaim. There has been a standard for decades that a Final Fantasy is going to be fantastic – it is a given. XIV managed to take this standard and rake it over hot coals.
The game’s woes are well-documented by now. An awful user interface, a non-existent economy and a bounty of bugs made people wonder how the hell this game could have been given a green light by any QA team, let alone a massive company such as SquareEnix. I don’t recall any CEO of a publisher not only issuing a public apology to its customers, but also acknowledging how badly damaging a product was to its reputation. There will be a complete retooling of the game set for a release in early 2013, but at this point, I am no longer interested. I should NOT be saying that about an FF game, but it remains the truth.
I enjoyed what little time I spent with Final Fantasy XI, and with servers still active to this day, I may dive back into it at some point. That said, I don’t want to see any more online ventures that are meant to be a main entry in the FF universe. The reason I and many others came to know and love these games was the solo journey, where I got lost in a world so mystifying it seemed more real than the world I call home.
Which brings me to my next point…
Take Us Back
I have a hard time deciding if IX or X is my favorite Final Fantasy. They both had what I feel are the most compelling storylines of not just the series, but gaming in general. IX had a nostalgia factor going for it, bringing back the idea of crystals and job classes. X was a giant leap forward in storytelling, and was the first game to feature full voice acting to further inject each character with personality.
I would like to see a combination of these two. I don’t expect a complete throwback to the Final Fantasies of the SNES days, and considering IX was the lowest-selling entry released on the PS1, I doubt the thought has crossed the minds of SquareEnix. I do, however, expect a story that keeps me enthralled to the end. XII and XIII had memorable characters, and the worlds they inhabited were a perfect setting for each of them. The problem was that they were just that – great characters. What happened to them, what they did, and why they did it were not enough to keep me hooked and invest weeks of my time.
I want another moment. Kefka’s meltdown and ensuing destruction, Sephiroth descending from the sky with sword in hand, the reunion at the end of IX…I want a lasting impression from the story that I haven’t felt since the absolute heartbreak I experienced at the end of X. If I can get goosebumps from 16-bit pixels, I can certainly experience a chill from high-definition graphics that just didn’t happen in XIII. Of course, I’m aware that story, while important, is not the lone factor in making a classic Final Fantasy experience.
Keep The Action
Final Fantasy XIII did not blow me away in the narrative area, but I stayed the course to the end. Why? The battle system quickly became my favorite in the entire series, and I found myself doing something I typically loathe in RPGs: grinding. The act of getting into battles over and over again to build my characters’ experience levels so that I can progress and beat the upcoming boss will usually appeal to me as much as eating a jar of hot mayonnaise. With the constant swapping of paradigms and frantic chaining of attacks to gain offensive ground on your enemies, XIII had me playing for hours without advancing further in the game. When the game opened up on Gran Pulse and suddenly presented me with 64 missions to hunt and kill rare beasts, I was in heaven.
I’m also happy to see that randomly spawning battles are now viewed as archaic and XIII put them to rest for good. Some people took to bitching about the lack of “traditional” elements, such as not having a world map and your health automatically recharging after every fight. If you’re stuck on this, you’re a closed-minded rube who will never be happy with anything in modern video games. I personally enjoyed the fact that I didn’t have to jump into a menu, remove negative status effects and then trek back to an inn before resuming my time fighting. The less maintenance I have to do for my characters, the better.
So, what’s left?
I’ve got nothing left. Final Fantasy has always been about keeping some traditions while introducing us to new elements that become mainstays. Remember, there was a time when battles were turn-based and we were limited to established character classes. It took five games and nine years before we had a break from the typical swords and sorcery setting, then proceeded to go industrial with VI.
Could that be the starting point? What sort of universe have we not seen in FF? Mass Effect nearly has a monopoly on the RPG in space category, so perhaps we could see something in that direction. As I stated before, I don’t expect to be taken back to the old-school universe of games like IV and V, but who here doesn’t want to see a black mage, complete with blue robe and pointy hat, in HD?
I can play armchair producer all night, but what I’m actually going to do is sit back and wait for E3. Considering how tight-lipped anyone at SquareEnix has been regarding Final Fantasy XV for years, I expect to be blown away when the lid finally does come off. I just hope that the rest of the fans allow themselves the chance to do the same.
FFXV Light – xDplushie