Final Fantasy Games Have Never Been About Choice

Over the last week as I have spent more and more time with Bravely Default: Flying Fairy — a Final Fantasy in all but name — I have found myself thinking about the classic Final Fantasies and how they compare with the most modern non-MMO iteration, Final Fantasy XIII. When I first played FFXIII, many months before it came West, I was sure it would be well received by fans and critics alike. This was clearly not the case.

With regard to FFXIII, I heard several common complaints about the gameplay — linearity, no backtracking, lack of character customisation, no overworld map — but all these really boil down to a single perceived problem: a lack of choice.

There's just one small problem with this criticism, however. Except for the two MMO — Final Fantasy games, Final Fantasy has never been about choice.

To start with, Final Fantasies — and JRPGs for that matter — are incredibly linear. In none do you have the ability to go where you want and do what you want (until the very end of the game). Instead you are herded from town to town, event to event, and dungeon to dungeon as the plot demands.

The overworld map itself is just as much a linear corridor as anything in FFXIII. Each area of the world map generally has a single entrance (where you come from) and a single exit (where you are going). Everything in the middle is just space filled with monsters and lower resolution graphics than you would find in your average dungeon — and of course the occasional town.

Unlocking the airship simply allows you to quickly move to any point in the world map corridor — giving the illusion of freedom, nothing more. The ability to backtrack itself serves little to no purpose other than giving you a second chance to gather any items you missed on your first pass — though they are likely useless by the time you can go back for them.

Even side quests don't really add choice to how you play the game. In most of the Final Fantasies, side quests don't unlock until right before the end — and generally do little more than pad your play time before finishing the game (I'm looking at you, FFX lightning bolt dodging).

The customisation found in levelling up the characters is likewise an illusion. While levelling up, Final Fantasy characters — especially those in X and XIII — are very different from one another. But by the end of the game, each character tends to be able to perform any role in the party.

Now, while there are exceptions to many of my statements above, they are generally true for Final Fantasy as a whole. So while there may be many valid reasons for disliking Final Fantasy XIII, lack of choice isn't one of them. Just as you don't blame a snake for being a snake, you shouldn't blame Final Fantasy for being a Final Fantasy.

In other words, Final Fantasy games are just the same as they've always been, with the majority of changes being not in gameplay but in graphics and story. The problem is that gaming has evolved in many ways besides graphics and story — making Final Fantasy look stuck in the past. Whether "being stuck in the past" is a bad thing or not is completely up to each individual gamer.

Of course, if all goes as planned with Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, those longing for more freedom in Final Fantasy may just get that choice-filled world they've been longing for.


Comments

    I really like FFX2 for this reason, there was so much to do and you could do things in the order you wanted and ignore missions if you liked, and the dress sphere system was pretty awesome. I don't get why so many people don't like the game.

      Combat, while good, wasn't AS good as the FFX system. Additionally, you stop a war by holding a rock concert. It felt like a parody of FFX at times. Most of the game was great, but the tone was way off if you compared it to the first game.

        Yeah, the plot wasn't fantastic. But it had its moments. And if you consider some of the sillier moments in FFX, X2 isn't really that bad by comparison.

    I didn't hate FFXIII for linearity - though it probably could have used a few more wrong turns etc like the old games had - I hated both the combat system and the story. The important thing you missed here though is that overworld maps offer the illusion of freedom. Sure the next part of the story is always going to be in one spot, but you could almost always get sidetracked and go explore another town, even if nothing was happening there.

    While I agree that the games were always a linear affair, the illusion of choice that the previous games had made a distinct difference in how you viewed the entire gaming experience. Having secret areas you could discover (even if they had no point to the final quest) was integral for the games right up to FFX. The arcade in FFVII, the various side quests and dungeons in FFVI, discovering rare cards in FFVIII and so forth.

    While it may have been an illusion, it made the subtle mental difference in that you weren't just slogging through wave after wave of enemy, you were *exploring*. FFXII had none of that. It lacked surprise. Perhaps that's it - more than "choice" what it lacked was the idea that your inquisitive nature may in fact reward you with a surprise.

      FFXIII had none of that. FFXII had the most exploration of them all.

        Agree, and I think there was a typo there and assume @usualday is referring to FFXIII.

        FFXII was and still is my favourite final fantasy. I enjoyed it so much, last year I decided to download PCSX2 (and use my legit copy of FFXII) to play it on my PC but take advantage of the ability to tweak settings and upscale it (looks spectacular hooked up to TV). FFXII actually did provide options in my opinion - I could freely travel (almost) anywhere at many points in the main story (obviously some of it is gated behind story progression points). Still an awesome game - might have to fire up PCSX2 again...

        FFXIII, in my opinion, was a "mash button X" and and literally only follow a very specific path. When I reached the big plains area I felt like my character was under-powered and I had farm in one small area to build up strength. That, and the storyline felt like it became more and more ridiculous. To each their own though, that's just my personal view. I've wanted to give FFXIII-2 a go but I've been leery since the original. Perhaps next time it's purchasable/shipped for ~$15 total from overseas.

    This is the most condescending piece of drivel I've read in a long time. It basically comes off as "If you didn't like ff13 because there was no choice your an idiot".

    Which is flat out ridiculous, you can not in good conscience tell me that FF9 and FF13 are exactly the same only with a different battle system/story. That is flat out absurd.

    The entire of FF13 can be summed up as one giant continuous dungeon with 10 hours of the slowest hand holding ever created. While people do enjoy the combat in Final Fantasy games they also enjoy all the other aspects. People enjoyed exploring towns, people enjoyed world maps with hidden grottos or choccobo villages, people enjoyed making choices about their character and the skills they could use. People Enjoyed the CHOICES because they broke up the monotony that was dungeon after dungeon, so to call them anything less is blatantly ignorant.

    So how I ask can you sit there and type out such a ridiculously incorrect piece of "journalism",( if you can even call it that), is quite frankly beyond me.

    People like you are the reason Square Enix think they can get away with making absolute terrible games like every FF this generation has been, because you seem blind to what actually makes a great game anymore and evidently so is Square Enix; because all people wanted was a new prettier version of 7/8/9/10 hell even 12 but all they gave us was a FF with everything that was possibly enjoyable about the series and removed it. So to say Final Fantasy games are the same as they have always been reeks of bought and paid for PR bullshit from Square Enix, its an utter farce.

    Last edited 11/11/12 11:50 am

      You can address a difference of opinion without throwing a hissy fit. Just take a deep breath and calm down. This is the type of comment you see on youtube. I would hope we could be a little bit more respectful of each other.
      From where I stand you and the author both make the same error. You are both calling somebody wrong for their subjective opinion. I loved final fantasy xiii and I thought it would be received great too. I didn't miss the illusory "choices" from past games but apparently people like you do! We can leave it at that because that's all it comes down to. Different people like different things, you don't get to make the jump to "they can get away with making absolute terrible games" and "you seem blind to what actually makes a great game anymore". No, he's not blind, he has a DIFFERENT OPINION. Okay? No more hissy fits, just accept that not everybody has your tastes :)

        I agree that people are entitled to differences of opinion but the way this article is presented reads to me as is potentially how @kingpotato interpreted it - perhaps a little insulting and asinine? Hey, opinions right.

        By the above definitions that almost come across as someone presenting facts - you could apply that to any RPG - Skyrim included - because there's an 'illusion of choice' with padding content while you're funnelled down a story.

          Hey, I agree. The article is guilty of the exact same thing. I addressed that at the start of the second paragraph.

        Sigh, nothing I said read remotely like a hissy fit or a youtube comment, stop being so melodramatic. I can also add opinions can and often are wrong (In today's context where people often miss use the word), especially in this sense where the author claims 13 is exactly the same as previous games which is wrong. (Not an opinion, its his interpretation of the facts, which he has come to the wrong conclusion) If it was by an large the same as every other title it would have done well and have been liked, instead the the majority or people who were fans of FF thought it was a giant stinking turd, (13 got a metacritic score of 6.4 for users vs 9.0 for ff9 and 8.6 for ff10).

        The article was hugely condescending so my annoyance at that fact is perfectly valid. Also if he honestly though ff13 was remotely as good as any previous ff he must be in fact blind or had a hard hit to the head as im sure 99% of fans would disagree with him (because fundamentally its the same game with all the optional bits taken out, therefore less of a game). So I can make the jump to all FF games this generation being terrible because they have all been hated by the final Fantasy fan population. Just because a few, like the author liked the game does not make it a good game in comparison to any other FF.

        I can blame him (for the sequals) because he thought the Titles were acceptable, so he and the other rabbid fanboys who buy every square enix game led them to make 13 -2; which was just as awful and hated and now they are making a third one as if the majority of fans weren't bashing square enix enough.

        The worst part though, is that i bet the author in fact did like the previous titles more than 13. So had square actually done what the fan base wanted a significantly larger portion of the fans would have been happy. But they didn't because enough muppets bought 13 to somehow justify 2 more abominations.

        Last edited 11/11/12 2:42 pm

    13 was middle of the road for me. Not as good as any PSOne or PS2 release, but I enjoyed it more than the SNES entries. I have yet to play the NES titles.

    While FF13 wasn't any more linear than other Final Fantasy games, the fact is I think it was the laziest in terms of trying to hide that linearity. The main example of this was the section with Lightning and Hope, which was a two hour segment (one hour if you skipped every story beat) where you ran down a copy/pasted hallway in an almost straight line towards the giant shining circle signifying story cutaway. Every other character had similar sections as well.
    It was most noticeable on the 360 where two of the three disks were devoted to this. By the time the game opened up I was too angry about how much time I'd wasted doing nothing that I pretty much never played it again.

    To start with, Final Fantasies — and JRPGs for that matter — are incredibly linear. In none do you have the ability to go where you want and do what you want (until the very end of the game).

    Bullshit. Not only does this not apply to all JRPGs like that statement suggests (try Persona for example) it doesn't apply to FF. At any given time in just about all the FF games, you had the ability to travel to multiple places and engage in sidequests. FF7, for example - once you got the landspeeder thing you were able to travel back to multiple locations and get extra stuff. There are two optional characters unlocked in the meat of the game - Yuffie is actually available pretty early on. There's her entire town as a side-area which is available quite early on. You don't even have to wait for the endgame to do most of the sidequesting, unlike popular belief. The instant you have Cloud back in your party, basically everything opens out. Most of the older FF games are like this. There are many, many points where you can stop and do other things for extended periods before continuing the story.

    FFXIII lacked any of that until you were more than halfway in, and then it was just hunting monsters.

    But that wasn't what was wrong with it. That was the unengaging plot, the bland characters and the poor pacing that resulted from stringing linear corridor after corridor with no towns or anything to open the game world out and give you a chance to breathe. Linearity isn't a problem as long as you have good pacing or give a toss about the characters or the plot, and FFXIII doesn't have that.

    And this is why FFVI is the almost unarguable king of them all: The first half worked as described by the author of the article. However, (SPOILERS) after Kefka ascended to godhood and you basically have to start from 0, you are truly free to do what you want. With the exception of a few checkpoints that must be met to advance the plot before the final confrontation, you may go wherever you want, and not only for random distractions/sidequests but to actually re-recruit your old party, most times through character-developing quests that you can follow in almost any order you want. Freedom and exploration are more than padding gimmicks: You may miss tons of important stuff if you don't explore and will very definitely be playing a lesser game.

      Pretty much agree, FFVI was a great game, so much to do in the 2nd half of the game. Wish they relased an updated version.

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