Civilization creator Sid Meier once famously said that a game is "a series of interesting decisions". Final Fantasy All The Bravest, a new game that came out for iOS on Thursday, has one interesting decision: How much money would you like to give Square Enix?
All The Bravest, a series of micro-transactions disguised as a video game, tasks you with swiping your finger up and down a screen as Final Fantasy characters jump and attack Final Fantasy villains on Final Fantasy backgrounds while playing Final Fantasy music. It's kind of fun, in that "I don't know why I'm doing this but it's kind of compelling for some reason" sort of way.
It's also less of a video game and more of a massive middle finger to fans. It should really be called "Final Fantasy F**k You Give Us Money". I can forgive the premium purchases: you can buy new maps for $4.49 each, which is fine, and you can buy 16-bit Final Fantasy characters for $0.99 each, except they're totally random and you don't know which one you're going to get, which is weird, but also generally an OK form of downloadable content.
No, the biggest problem in Final Fantasy All The Bravest is that when you die in battle, which will happen often, because battles are totally random and there's no way to heal, buff, target enemies, or do anything except swipe your finger up and down as your characters furiously attack, you have to either wait for your characters to revive (three minutes per character, or up to two hours), exit the battle and try again (pointless, since again, there's no strategy), or pay Square Enix real money to revive your party.
Let me repeat that: in order to make progress in the game you just spent $US4 to buy, you have to pay more money to Square Enix.
I can only imagine the English translators at Square Enix hearing about this, sighing, shaking their heads, and wondering if anyone will ever get to enjoy their work -- which was stellar. Probably not. It's hard to play this game without getting angry.
But Final Fantasy All The Bravest is not an anomaly. This betrayal is nothing new. Square has spent the past half-decade picking away at our love for their ubiquitous, once-beloved series. All The Bravest is just another limb rotting off the bloated, mangled corpse that was once Final Fantasy.
As someone who grew up with the adventures of Cecil and Terra, I find it depressing to even write, but here we are. It's 2013, and Final Fantasy is on its last legs. The 25-year-old RPG series is a shell of its former self. When we see a new Final Fantasy game, our first reaction is no longer "awesome!" -- it is "shit, how are they going to ruin my childhood next?" I've written before about some of the problems facing Final Fantasy, and even drawn up wish lists of things I'd like to see Square Enix try to do, but All The Bravest is yet another piece of disturbing evidence that this company no longer cares about its fans.
It's easy to pinpoint exactly when Final Fantasy started to die. In 2001, not long after the cinematic financial disaster known as Spirits Within, series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi left the company to go off to Hawaii and surf and make games where you surf. A couple years later, Square merged with Enix, and it's all been downhill from there, especially for Final Fantasy, which has had to stumble through a series of awful missteps over the past few years.
Final Fantasy XIII was loved by some but hated by many more, Final Fantasy XIV was an unequivocal disaster, and many of Square's other decisions are totally baffling. Why make a sequel to FFXIII, a game that sold well but may have irrevocably damaged this brand forever? Why make yet another sequel to that? Why dedicate so many of your resources to an MMORPG in an age where MMORPGs are all slowly eroding, or going free-to-play when they realise they can't survive on the traditional subscription model anymore? Why make a direct sequel to Final Fantasy IV that does nothing but directly reuse FFIV's images and storylines? Why release a Final Fantasy game without any sound? Why force us to pay so much money for mobile Final Fantasy games?
Well, I guess we know the answer to that one. Cash. Delicious, delicious money that pleases Square's stockholders even as it ostracizes the company's biggest fans. Final Fantasy All The Bravest is currently sitting at #25 on the iTunes top 100 list for paid apps. Sickening. I wonder how many people regret that purchase?
So what's next for Final Fantasy? On the horizon we have Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, a game that continues a story that nobody really cares about. There's Final Fantasy Versus XIII, a game that may or may not actually exist. And then what? Does anybody really trust Square Enix to make another great console RPG? Why does the thought of a Final Fantasy XV fill me with more dread than excitement?
I don't know what the next generation will bring for Final Fantasy, a series I could once rank among my favourite. And nothing will ever diminish or erase my fond memories of sneaking through South Figaro to figure out what the Empire is planning, fighting my way to the moon to take down Zeromus, and getting the CROWN to trade for the HERB to trade for the CRYSTAL to get the KEY to find the TNT that will let me explore the world. Even today, I can replay old Final Fantasy games and have a blast doing it.
But it's time for fans like you and me to accept that Final Fantasy isn't Final Fantasy anymore. The series we once knew and loved is never coming back. We'll have to satiate our craving for great JRPGs elsewhere -- and they are still elsewhere! By the end of February, we'll have Ni no Kuni, Fire Emblem: Awakening, and Etrian Odyssey IV, among others -- not a bad haul for the first two months of 2013. But our love for Final Fantasy is unrequited. The series has been dying for years now, and money-mongering bullshit like Final Fantasy All The Bravest is a reminder of that.
Final Fantasy might not be dead yet. But it will never be the same.
Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG.