Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Damaged Goods - The Present and Future of Final Fantasy

The CEO of Square Enix, Yoichi Wada, has stated that "The Final Fantasy brand has been greatly damaged," by Final Fantasy XIV. From where I'm looking though, it really seems like XIV is just the latest problem in what has been a less than stellar moves for the powerhouse series. Can Final Fantasy be fixed, and should it be fixed at all?

I remember my first Final Fantasy, as do most gamers. It was in fact my first RPG as well: Final Fantasy VI, or as I knew it for a long time Final Fantasy 3, was my introduction to the genre. I was blown away by the scope of the story, even if a lot of things did go over my head (I think I was 11 at the time), the depth of the characters, the way combat worked, just the entire thing. Even though I don't play them much anymore I still consider myself a fan of RPGs, which makes me feel somewhat obligated to speak up about how the franchise that introduced me to the genre has seemingly been less than fantastic lately.

It was only very recently that Yoichi Wada made the comments about Final Fantasy being hurt overall by the lackluster performance of FF14. While there is more than enough evidence that does lend credence to the fact that 14 was an unmitigated disaster that shouldn't have been released in the form it was, from my point of view the Final Fantasy series hasn't really been doing solid for quite some time, pretty much they moved from the Playstation to the PS2.

Final Fantasy 10 was a fair game, certainly very pretty, but I felt that the loss of the overworld map was a huge blow to the system which culminated in  Final Fantasy 13 which a lot of people accused of being pretty much a straight line. Perhaps this is my own assertion, but the exploration and overworld were part of what I loved about the Final Fantasy series: wondering if you were going to find that next town, if you were in an area that you shouldn't be in yet and the next random battle might be your last, that sort of thing. Taking that away just kind of dulled the experience.

As for going online, there's nothing inherently wrong with that, but I believe that the other main strength of the series -- the story and characters -- just can't make the transition proper to the online world. Certainly there can be story, even a good story, but it doesn't hold the same gravitas as the single player experience. Also, it would help if the game is actually released when it isn't a completely unplayable mess too, you know.

I'm not sure what the core problem is, but it almost honestly seems like in a way the company itself believes that it might have reached an apex in terms of what it can put out. Of course they wouldn't admit it, but after games like six and seven -- especially seven whether you want to admit it or not -- it seems that they said "this is probably the best we can do" and haven't really tried to recapture the magic. Certainly they've experimented with what they can do -- that got us eight -- they've tried to recapture the nostalgia -- nine -- they brought in voice acting -- ten -- tried online -- eleven -- you can see where I'm going with this, right? But at the same time they haven't really done anything that made people go "WOW" the same way that seven did.

Perhaps another part of the reason is something that Jim Sterling outlined months ago in one of his videos: Square seems to like putting a lot of food on its plate, but then takes forever eating it when its eyes turn out to be bigger than its stomach. They need to buckle down and focus on one large project at a time, rather than the half dozen or so that they seemingly have on the run right now that have been producing few results and even less exciting ones.

Perhaps I'm just droning on, but honestly, it's been a while since I've seen a Final Fantasy game that I actually want to play, and that saddens me quite a bit. Sure, there's probably going to be the inevitable complete remake of seven (although I'd rather it be six) but I want something new from Square to make me stand up and say "Holy shit, I need to play that the second it comes out!" because I miss it, and I doubt that I'm the only one.

P.S. I'm afraid that I won't be updating for at least the next two days. Sorry about that folks.

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