The Big Final Fantasy Question

The Big Final Fantasy Question

Is Final Fantasy dead? Should we stop getting excited about the series? Is it time to abandon all hope?

A great deal has been written about the decline of Square Enix's titanic RPG franchise, and it's hard to find a Final Fantasy fan who doesn't have strong opinions about how the influential series has evolved over the years. Back in January, I wrote that Final Fantasy was dying, and although a strong E3 showing from Square Enix has pumped up my optimism, lumps like Final Fantasy All The Bravest are still hard to swallow.

Last week, Wired's Chris Kohler declared that Final Fantasy isn't just dying — it's dead. Today, he elaborated further, concluding that thanks to talent exodus and brand abuse, Final Fantasy has lost its position as a name that stands for "quality always."

An excerpt:

If Final Fantasy keeps going this way, it only has worse days ahead of it; the idea that people will keep sinking money into a worsening slate of Final Fantasy products is preposterous; no hot gaming brand lasts forever and in fact few even make it this long. But at the same time, it is of course entirely possible that Square Enix, at some point, could produce a killer game with the Final Fantasy name on it that does gangbuster sales. That would require a brand new outlook, though. It would perhaps mean giving the Final Fantasy name to a totally new game from a different development studio with bold new ideas and a better track record.

I think that at some point, this will happen. But for this to happen, it would require Square Enix to accept what many of us already realise: The path it is on with Final Fantasy is a dead end. It cannot just keep trying the same flawed things over and over again, expecting different results this time just because. In other words, it can only turn things around once it accepts that Final Fantasy is dead.

OK. The status quo is not working. It's hard to argue against that point — although Kohler's piece does not spend much time talking about Final Fantasy XV, a game that seems to depart from tradition in many ways. Combat in Tetsuya Nomura's next baby will be executed in real time, for example, forsaking the turn-based strategy that Final Fantasy helped popularise.

(Kohler, a friend and former boss of mine, is infamously vitriolic toward "vaporware" — or games that are announced but never released — so I can see why he isn't paying much attention to the game formerly known as Versus XIII, which was originally announced in 2006.)

Yet... from a practical perspective, what does that mean, exactly? Say a bunch of executives at Square Enix read Kohler's article and collectively yell, "Goshdarnit, he's right!" What should they do? This is not Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed. Final Fantasy has always been known for experimenting with themes, characters, and combat systems. There is no status quo — at least from a gameplay perspective.

The solution to Kohler's dilemma, I think, can be found in a different story that ran this week: an Edge interview with Yoshinori Kitase, the longtime Final Fantasy shepherd who has been involved with the series for over two decades. In the interview, Kitase dishes on the creation of Final Fantasy VI, a game that many fans rank as their favourite in the series. It's my favourite, too.

It's all worth reading — fun fact: FFVI was produced in just a year, according to Kitase — but here's one particularly salient section:

"It's maybe strange to say [this], but I miss the limitations of making games in those days," Kitase acknowledges. "The cartridge capacity was so much smaller, of course, and therefore the challenges were that much greater. But nowadays you can do almost anything in a game. It's a paradox, but this can be more creatively limiting than having hard technical limitations to work within. There is a certain freedom to be found in working within strict boundaries, one clearly evident in Final Fantasy VI."

And there we have it. In a couple of lines, Kitase nails exactly what's wrong with Final Fantasy today: the developers are overwhelmed. Swamped by technological advancements and Square Enix's insistence that Final Fantasy set a worldwide standard for video game production values, the teams behind the most recent Final Fantasys have floundered. Big budgets and eye-popping graphics have hurt their creative output, and instead of trying to do more with less, they did less with more.

Perhaps as a net result of this problem, Team FFXIII lacked direction. As the creators of the much-maligned Final Fantasy XIII once explained: "Even at a late stage of development, we did not agree on key elements of the game, which stemmed from the lack of a cohesive vision, the lack of finalised specs, and the remaining problems with communication between departments."

It's no wonder they couldn't figure out how to make any towns.

So, look. I don't agree with Kohler's assertion that Final Fantasy is deadFFXV looks promising, I like what I've played of Lightning Returns so far, and the revamp of FFXIV sounds like a success. But his overarching point is correct: something needs to change. Square Enix's development teams need to tap into that limit-fuelled energy that helped make games like FFVI and FFVII feel so special to so many people. I don't know that the solution is, as Kohler suggests, to pass the series off to another developer. Maybe there's another way to recapture the zeitgeist.

Or maybe they just need more self-imposed restrictions. How about they put FFXVI on Super Nintendo?


Comments

    We need more handheld outings, all the DS FFs were fantastic (except Revenant Wings, who is a dirty, dirty whore).

    Final Fantasy Type-0 looks amazing, but they didn't bother localising it :(

    Back to basics people! We want great gameplay first, worry about the flashy graphics later.

      For me, FF is all about emotions. I knew within the first hour or so of FF-XIII that it had that quality, and I was willing to overlook any flaws in the gameplay for that reason. I've found that emotions in a JRPG have a uniqueness to them and I have yet to find an analogue in western RPGs. Take Trails in the Sky for example. The whole game was working up to the ending, which had me weeping manly tears. I think the Japanese audience expects a more internalised emotional display than western audiences, so the developers produce stuff that some westerners might find bland or boring. Sorry, got a little off track there :-)

    While I still enjoy Final Fantasy games, they seem to have lost their "magic" after Spirits Within and the merger with Enix. To me the current "premier" JRPG team is Atlus, who have easily dethroned Square-Enix with their Shin Megami Tensei and Persona series.

    I also enjoy Idea Factory and Compile Heart, but their stuff isn't for everyone.

    Just because you have the technology doesn't mean you have to use it. Look at X-COM or Rayman Origins. Sold well and recieved even better by fans and critics. No overly flashy details or explosions, they gave you what they needed to give you.

    I actually quite like FFXIII. I'm currently in the process of trying to finish it (will be the first FF game I've finished if I do) so I can move onto FFXIII-2 and finish that before Lightning Returns is released.

    I think the problem is somewhat of a 'generational gap' between fans of newer series and older series. A lot of the fans who liked the 'classic' feel of the older games feel the newer games don't represent the 'Final Fantasy' series that they are used to.

    I'm quite excited for what 'Lightning Returns', 'FFXV' and even Kingdom Hearts 3 will bring. The glory days of Japan's gaming industry seems to be making a comeback, which can only be a good thing.

      I'm doing exactly the same thing with FF-XIII at the moment. Got XIII-2 on its way but am looking to platinum XIII first. I'm really liking it and find that it does resonate with my experience of FF-VII, which is the only other one I've played. Also looking forward to FF-XV, which takes the best looking game on Next Gen award (in my book).

    I like FF having a world map to explore, with lots of little side characters and side quests. It made the world seem like an actual world I should care about, rather than a corridor with "the world you should care about" plastered along the walls. Yes I stopped playing FF games at FF13 :P

    For me at least I actually would rather see a return to some of the stuff from the old, rather than reinventing things. I don't necessarily have a problem with turn based battles and if what it takes to have an expansive world is to make the characters talk only in text I'd really be fine with that. Just give me an actual WORLD to explore, that's what made other FF games so interesting for me. Even though you knew it was a linear game it still felt really open.

    I jumped onto the final fantasy series quite late with XIII. As strange as it sounds, I felt that XIII, and even XIII-2 were quite limiting compared to several other lesser known J-RPG's of this gen alone. I mean, yeah they looked prettier, but only marginally better. And dare I say this, but Lost Odyssey and The Last Remnant still look just as good, AND provide better turn based gameplay.

    Final Fantasy is like that ex you really loved at one time, and who you really hope can clean up their act. Only every time they swear they've changed and they look really good, so you decide to let them crash at your place for a few days... Then you realize they're full of it, and they might have been TRYING to clean up their act, but they have sadly failed, and you kick them out.

    Or in the case of FFXIII, not only did they turn up stoned and drunk, but they brought their new partner/pimp with them and were wanted by police for questioning, so you confiscate their key to your place and tell them they are in no way coming back until there's been a few dates involved and a notarized copy of a clean STD test.

    It is not dead, they just need to work on their localization. Bring on Bravely Default!

    I just don't get why they (actually all gaming companies for that matter) have this need to make graphics outweigh story and gameplay mechanics but at the same time final fantasy either needs to make some HD remakes of FF1-9 or make new games that played out just like these but updated design instead of the track their currently going of hack and slash action style FF.

    Long time player - stopped at Twelve.
    I agree with the quote above from Kitase - that the limitations make the game better. I think this is a problem with many AAA titles these days - that the ability to do ALL the things makes it hard to do ALL the things well unless you have a very structured governance policy in place in the studio.
    Looking back on the FF series, regardless of your absolute die-hard "this made me love RPG's" deity level of love game (for me, FFVII and a bit of FFVIII), there are aspects within those games that you can point to and say "This was NOT done well".
    FF died when instead of having 80-90% of the game done well or better due to limitations, they did everything just a little better than average (for me, that came with FFX and FFXII). In trying to do ALL the things, Final Fantasy failed because it couldn't do ALL the things well, it did it just as good as other games. That, combined with the brand recognition for quality that players expected, made it fall from grace harder than your not-so-established brands.
    TL;DR: FF was once quality in most of the things that make a great game, but now it's average/mediocre - but we wouldn't be having this discussion if it wasn't a quality series. Being Average now+Quality past = dead brand.
    TL;DR of the TL;DR: Tidus laughing began to kill that special place in my heart for FF games.

    The franchise is up to its fifteen iteration. FIFTEENTH. So much for the first one being the final one.

    Bring back Hiroyuki Ito to direct FFXVI (check the resume: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiroyuki_Ito#Works). Motomu Toriyama & Tetsuya Nomura can keep making terrible Fabula Nova Crystallistfu games for all I care.

    XIII-2 was amazing, probably my favourite game of the year.
    XIII was interesting, but definitely suffered due to its linearity.

    They should put out some new 3DS Final Fantasy games, they get those restrictions back, will have to focus on gameplay over flashiness and can make good enjoyable games that everyone will still judge against an impossible standard.

    The problem with Final Fantasy these days is the same problem lots of AAA games have, they try to be 'cinematic' instead of 'fun'.

    Bring back a story that has emotion, characters that you can invest in and a villain that is actually visible throughout the whole game. If a game is about a party of people, let us control the party again like we used to. Make a world that's worth exploring and more importantly, that we're actually able to explore at our leisure. Sometimes going back to your roots and what's traditional is a good step forward. FFIX is my favourite FF, and a part of that is the whole style of the game being very traditional. They now have the technology to make each world fully interactive, side quests galore, quirky NPCs so why don't they do it?

    Most of what I've just said has been said a thousand times before so I'll only believe it when I see it. Unfortunately with FFXIII, I bought it, I didn't like it, I didn't buy XIII-2 and I won't buy Lightning Returns as I'm just not interested anymore. They can point at the sales figures and go 'it was a success' all they want, but the longer they do that and not actually listen to the fans the worse the series will be. Fortunately, with the changes they've made recently to the company they might actually be listening, but still, I'm not holding my breath for anything like the old days any time soon

      Yeah. High sales figures are a success only in one very limited respect - money made for that particular title. When you start looking at franchises, though, big sales numbers for a title mean that the franchise has that many fans.

      And if the title was bad, it'll have fewer fans. Who expects to see record-breaking Diablo 4 sales, after the incredibly financially-successful critical clusterfuck that was D3?

    I wish there was more story or something on the FVIII (8) game as that was pretty good and had a good story.

    Seeing that picture up above makes me miss the high fantasy parts that were emphasized back then in FF. Jesus, that color scheme, those horns, it's overall a over-elaborate outfit- but it just works, y'know? It seems SE tries to modernize everything with every sequel.

    Is anyone else disappointed that FFXV is going to have a real-time action fighting system? I want a turn-based tactical affair.

    “Even at a late stage of development, we did not agree on key elements of the game, which stemmed from the lack of a cohesive vision"

    Squenix kicked Sakaguchi - the guy that actually had a cohesive vision - out during FFX, and everything's gone downhill since then.

    Also doesn't help when they refuse to localize games that are actually good like Type-0 and Bravely Default.

    I gotta be honest here. I'm totally fine with Final Fantasy being "dead". I've just lost all interest in Square's flagship series at this point. Every game just continues to churn out the same recycled concepts to the point that I can't even pretend to care anymore.

    The settings may change (unless it's a sequel), but they seem content to just wheel out the same tropes every damn time regardless. It's like they run down a checklist of things that MUST be included, lest the fans be outraged. Better have some moogles in there. Gotta add chocobos. Need to change some random guy's name to Cid. There needs to be a Bahamut, and an Odin, and a cactaur, and a blah blah blah blah...just stop.

    For the love of god, stop.

    I've had enough. Most gamers have had enough. Given the laundry list of things that must be included in each game, I'll be surprised if even the devs haven't had enough (those that haven't already left that is).

    To me, the best part of the Square golden era was not in the main Final Fantasy games. While I did play and for the most part enjoy FF6-12, it was all the other amazing games they made on the side that have stuck with me all these years. Vagrant Story, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger/Cross, Final Fantasy Tactics, Xenogears, Parasite Eve...these are the games that I'll always remember and hold dear.

    If Squeenix wants to steady the ship, they need to stop relying on a single watered-down brand to carry the company, and focus on releasing good quality, enjoyable games, with some fresh ideas. It sounds like there are already some efforts being put into place to shake things up moving forward, which is really good to hear. Hopefully now they'll start releasing quality titles like Bravely Default in the west, come up with some interesting new games, and we can have another "golden age" to look back on in 15 years.

    FFXV is proberly gonna be a let down, games that have very extended development cycles generally dissapoint.
    Personally I will reserve judgement till XVI or whatever FF game is built for PS4/XB1 from the ground up.

    Put it on PC, I might start caring about it again...

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