The Rejuvenation Of Final Fantasy

In the back of the Los Angeles Convention Center this week, on a massive screen that seemed more suited for a movie theatre than an E3 show floor, Square Enix was running a loop of video footage from their biggest games. Every 10 minutes we'd see their newest and most impressive announcement: Final Fantasy XV.

Whenever the 15th Final Fantasy appeared, people would stop what they were doing. They'd flock to the screen like moths to a flame, or like sheep that have finally found their spiky-haired shepherd. They'd stand in large crowds, heads tilted slightly upwards, eyes fixated. The Final Fantasy trance.

It's been a long time since I've heard people get excited — really, genuinely, can't-stop-talking-about-this excited — when it comes to Final Fantasy, but here we are. Square's newest game, a striking contrast to E3's cacophony of shooters and cars, has created the type of buzz that only a series like Final Fantasy could. Conversations with RPG fans in Los Angeles this week have usually come around to the same topic: "Did you see that trailer? Holy shit, right?"

Final Fantasy XV, once called Final Fantasy Versus XIII, was re-announced and rebranded on Monday night, with a dazzling video that leaped through CGI, action, crystals, and just about anything else you might expect from a Final Fantasy game. It was impressive not just because it looked great but because it took care of many of Square Enix's problems in one fell swoop. The name Final Fantasy Versus XIII had been tainted thanks to a troubled development cycle and the polarising Final Fantasy XIII, and for many years Versus was a joke, a vaporware punchline on the level of Duke Nukem Forever. Tallying over seven years in development as a PS3 exclusive, Versus had been a no-show at almost every major gaming event, and the team reportedly had issues executing on the PlayStation 3's restrictive Cell processor. Now they've got a fresh start: a new name, a new platforms, and a new opportunity to make sure the next Final Fantasy game is all it can be.

Rebranding the game was another smart decision by Square Enix, adding to what has been a disarming number of wise moves by the troubled, oft-frustrating Japanese company. Financially crippled by costly mistakes like the under-cooked Final Fantasy XIV and the under-performing Final Fantasy XIII-2, Square Enix has decided to shift direction. They're done with the type of troubled development cycles that leave half of Final Fantasy XIII's assets on the cutting room floor. They want to get their shit together. It's exciting.

So, OK. With another E3 behind us, let's talk about what this week meant for the future of Final Fantasy.

Five months ago, I was bummed out about Square's flagship series. I wrote that they had ran Final Fantasy into the ground, and that cash-grubbing disasters like All The Bravest were indicative of just how far they'd fallen.

Today, things feel different. Maybe Square needed to hit rock bottom before it could start climbing out of the pit. Or maybe shake-ups in upper management made all the difference. Whatever happened, it was effective. Like Celes finding Locke's bandana on the shore, there's a glimmer of hope that maybe the future won't be so bad.

There are three big new Final Fantasy games on the horizon: 1) Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, the FFXIV overhaul that by most accounts is shaping up to be much better than its predecessor; 2) Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, which I didn't expect to enjoy as much as I did when I played it yesterday (more on that game next week); and 3) Final Fantasy XV.

Go ahead and watch the trailer again. Here:

It's... really cool. For a number of reasons. There are both eye-popping spectacles on the backs of giant monsters and heartfelt emotional scenes involving green soup. There are castles and airships. There's a montage of mysterious-looking characters, some of whom will inevitably betray you (and then maybe betray your enemy too, just for the hell of it).

The villain in this three-minute trailer is immediately more interesting than the villains in Final Fantasy XIII, who you've probably already forgotten about. Did you remember that there are significant enemy characters in FFXIII named Jihl and Yaag? I thought not. Antagonists in Final Fantasy have always been fascinating and memorable, and it's nice to see this one getting a lot of attention.

And then there's the combat. Seems actiony. Modern. Here's a closer look:

Traditionalists have already come out criticising director Tetsuya Nomura and crew for ditching turn-based combat. "Just look at that guy bouncing around the battlefield. Where are the turns? The strategic decisions? This isn't Final Fantasy!"

And, OK, yes, every mainline Final Fantasy game to date has featured some sort of turn-based combat. But that's not what Final Fantasy has ever been about. Final Fantasy, beyond the crystals and the summoned monsters and the increasingly beautiful hair particles, is about surprise. It's about unfamiliarity. It's about picking up a controller and entering a world and never wanting to leave. The series has lost a bit of that, and Final Fantasy XV feels like it's trying to evoke that feeling again. Square should do whatever they feel needs to be done in order to achieve that.

The best part of my week wasn't seeing that FFXV trailer: it was seeing the end of that trailer. It was the "But..." It was the logo morphing from Final Fantasy Versus XIII to Final Fantasy XV. I've replayed that chunk of the video a hundred times in the past few days. I get chills every single time. We're up to the fifteenth Final Fantasy. Fifteen! I have been playing these games since as long as I've been conscious, and even the most cynical parts of my brain can't help but have an emotional reaction to the idea that the series has lasted this long. And everything we've seen about FFXV so far looks and feels like a game on the right track.

So bring on the crazy combat. Bring on the politics, the crystals, the drama, the magic. I want to jump into Final Fantasy XV and feel like I'm on a grand adventure again. For the first time in years, I'm excited about the future of Final Fantasy.

Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG.


    I agree that FF has never just been about turn-based combat, but at the same time I would hate to see the series dwindle into a hacky/slashy action RPG franchise from here on out.

    I also wish there was a little more fantasy than realism here but hey, I guess it's something refreshing altogether.

    Looks tedious.

    X and X-2 weren't as bad as people say, although their replay value is low. All the FFs since then have been a bland mess, they are all the same game, with forgettable characters. Hard to keep track of which game is which and which characters are from what.
    This series needs a reboot, it's been a long time since it was top dog of the genre.

    I'm sure that the people who were playing FF in it's golden era are not the same people playing recent FF titles.
    The graphic capability of the PS4 seems like it will be good enough to warrant an FF8 sequel/prequel (I don't mention the xbox one since it has been crossed out of the industry), and from that they can get the attention of former players and add them to the current ones, which they in turn stand a good chance of retaining for future FF games.

    As a long time FF player I can only hope this Actiony game play is just a phase that will move on. If I wanted to play action games I wouldn't go for FF. Just like if I wanted to play an RPG I wouldn't go for Blazblue. I'm ok with the kind of hybrid feel they have going but its becoming an extraordinarily thin line now.

    I can't wait for this game and I'm glad that they're mixing up the battle systems. I'm so sick of turn based, random encounter bullshit. Grinding is not fun...However I also hope that the game doesn't always just go full action battle system. IMHO i think the best battle system they ever had wasn't in the originals but in FFXII. I know that the game received quite polarised opinions, and the story wasn't that great. However I was really hooked by the great voice work and essentially turn based battle system it offered without the hindrance of shitty random encounters. If XII had of had a better story I would put it up there with 7.

      FFXII has to be my favourite - the world seemed well thought out, there were no random encounters with invisible enemies on the world map, the gambit system allowed for some great strategy in handling situations (although it also paved the way for little to no interaction in combat if you build them well enough).

      I don't mind the action combat as I think it worked pretty well in games like the DarkSiders series but I do prefer a slower and more strategic approach in the FF games - not every single game has to be an adrenalin sport.

      I loved FFXII's story - the premise was great. My only criticism is that at times I wasn't sure if it supposed to centre around Vaan's story or Ashe's story. I still replay this on my PC every now and then - gloriously upscaled using the advanced settings in PCSX2.

        I loved FFXII as well I thought the story, locations, cities, everything just felt alive, moreso than FFX. The Gambit system was a welcome addition. FFXIII just ended up being a button mashing sequence for me.

        I always thought the Vaan/Ashe mixed story was like the mix in FFX with Tidus/Yuna. You could always never tell who was actually the main character.

      When I first saw the combat system for XV I thought it did look like an Action RPG. However, after thinking about it for a while, it might be something similar to XII

    Also on a side note XII had the best 2 characters IMO, in all the FF franchice, Fran and Balthier. They were so awesome :)

      Probably caused they channeled Han Solo and Chewbacca so much eh? :)

    Looks promising.
    How about a FFVII remake as well?

    I love the Cyberpunk feel of FF and the return of massive castles and airships means FF is returning to it's roots again.

    I really enjoyed 13 and 13-2, the end game of 13 pretty much tripled my play time to just over 100 hours and to get the Platinum trophy it would have taken too much grinding and I couldn't be bothered.

    Level grinding is what makes JRPG's what they are, without it, you miss out on a lot, you can pretty much "see" your character becoming stronger and slowly estimate when you will be able to tackle that next boss and move on. For me it's a real RPG experience and finding exp farm locations and certain points in the game is massively rewarding, you feel as if you've uncovered some great secret!

    This game is probably a long long long way off release, it's too early to judge the combat system. Ive played every FF game since FF2 (US) on SNES and I can say that I losing traditional turn based combat isn't such a bad thing and that FFXII is probably my favourite FF game, anyway. If it's 100% action based, it'll be much like a melee action game and it'll come down to whether they're able to nail it. Square aren't noobs, they know how to make great games...

    I'm more curious about this game. I'm more sure that it will actually come out now, but it hardly feels like Final Fantasy. It showcased far too many scenes that looked ripped from the japanese location the developers are based. If they can keep the fantasy part, bring back some airships and make the magic exciting again (it just felt like another attack in xii, xiii), I'd be interested. Making the baddie a greater part of the story helps a lot.

    Hah! Looks awesome! As for the combat system I recall when the first trailer (with no gameplay) for ff13 came out people thought it was going to be much more dynamic, what with lighting jumping and gunning every enemy down. I recall it got good reactions.

    When actual gameplay came out we found it was actually semi-turned based, and of course no one complained. NOW they've finally (allegedly) succeeded in making the combat system truly dynamic. I welcome it.

    And were the enemies in the video "Ifrit" and "Iron Man"?? Love it!

      One of them must be the new behemoth, the eyes and tail give it away i think. I'm glad it no longer has that stupid blade stuck to its head which it pulls out and uses as a weapon like in FFXIII/XIII-2.

    i dont know this is just my 2cent ...
    they should bring back the story with romance to it like the previous FF (ff6,7,8,9,10) are all romance story style

    from 12 onwards people starting to dislike etc

    i dont know i could be wrong but yeh my 2 cent :p

    Its kingdom heart combat.

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