I’ve thought a long time about how to write this. I knew I would need a Final Fantasy article honoring its 25th year in existence (if we go by the Japanese release dates), but I wasn’t sure what the angle should be. I’ve already written so very many posts about Final Fantasy that the readers probably think I am trolling them. I’m not. It’s just my favorite game (as you might have noticed) and it’s the one that always gets my blood pumping. But I’ve conveyed that already, many times before. I thought about letting the whole thing go by, but that didn’t feel right either.
So rather than talk about the past of Final Fantasy, which admittedly was when people still cared about the series, I’ve decided to talk about the future of Final Fantasy and what I think I can be done to salvage the once-proud franchise. There are tons of articles out there about this very subject, but I hope you will agree that I have shown enough credibility regarding Final Fantasy to make my voice stand out against the cacophony of chaos currently clouding the Internet like a sudden squall. (See what I did there?)
The problem with Final Fantasy is also its strength: every game strives to be different, sometimes in subtle ways, such as changing the battle system and sometimes in ways that make the game unrecognizable from the previous entry. This is what I love about the series. This is also what some people hate about the series. The vast difference between Final Fantasy VII’s deformed heroes and dark story contrasts with Final Fantasy VIII’s normally proportioned characters and sappy love story. And that’s just visuals. If we get into the differences between the Materia and Junction systems, we could be here all day. The point is, this throws people off.
Looking at sales figures for the series on VGChartz (and yes, I realize VGChartz isn’t exactly science, but Square Enix blocked my email address a long time ago, okay???) we see that the two best-selling games are FF VII and FF X. Each of those games was the first game in the series for its respective system. It was the entry point. Each game after that on both consoles performed slightly worse, though still well any standard. By the time of FF IX, there was a drop-off of 4 million units worldwide. That’s a big number. People had tuned out the series, until FF X came along on the PS2, with its pretty visuals and annoying voices. Then they tuned it out again, this time seemingly for good because even FF XIII on the PS3 was met with a hearty, “MEH” from the world.
So what’s a video game company to do? Play it safe? Or continue to be bold? Or just do what some other Japanese publishers are doing and copy the Western-style of games in the vain hopes that you can do what they do better than they can? Spoiler alert: you can’t. Even die-hard fans like myself are starting to wonder if Square can pull out of this horrific death spiral. Final Fantasy XIII-2 was a step in the right direction and the newly announced Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII sounds like a giant leap into action-RPGs. But it was preceded by the abysmal debacle that was Final Fantasy XIV. Though signs are strong that they may be able to salvage a decent game out of that wreckage, will anyone be around to care?
In the meantime, I have a few ideas that might win the hearts and minds of the faithful and maybe a few new fans as well.
1. Remake Final Fantasy VII in HD: Yeah, I know, hardly an original idea. But they really need to do this and for a very important reason that isn’t just financial, but cultural: they need to save face. I don’t think Square expected the reaction they received when they showed off the FF VII PS3 demo all those years ago, instead of simply denying the fans, they should have seized the opportunity and march over to Sony and said, “Hey, you guys want an exclusive? Help us with the budget and we will sell millions of that overpriced black box for you.” Instead, they kept dodging questions like Neo dodges bullets and started pooping out Kingdom Hearts games at a disturbing pace. This one step would go a long way to restoring fans faith in Square. As the song goes, “Got to give the people…give the people what they want!”
2. Make an old-school Final Fantasy. That’s right, you heard me. And not one of these mobile games where you charged us $30 bucks to play the full game. That’s Mooglecrap and you know it. I know Square Enix is aware of the PSN and Xbox Live Marketplace. In case they forgot, it’s that place where they charge more for their games than anyone else does. They should take a good long look at the kind of games that are being released there. A 2D, SNES-era Final Fantasy game would BLOW MINDS. Just pretend Final Fantasy VII never happened and go from there. Remember the reaction Mega Man 9 received? Imagine the money you would bring in. Go ahead, Square. IMAGINE IT.
3. Return to the fantasy setting. Or do a modern day one. Either one, but enough with the sci-fi stuff. It was unique for a while, but it is pretty played out and it doesn’t look any different from 99% of the other JRPGs out there. Use all that graphical power you’ve harnessed and show us some extraordinary fantasy settings, the kind you were never able to do on the NES and SNES. We haven’t had a proper fantasy setting since FF IX and even that was steampunk-ish with sci-fi leanings. Go back to the days of FF IV and FF V and get creative. I know you have it in you.
4. Don’t announce a game that isn’t coming out within 2 years. It just looks bad. The entire Mass Effect trilogy has been released in the time since Square Enix unveiled Final Fantasy Versus XIII and all the other games in the Fabula Nova Crystallis series. The whole thing was a blatant attempt to recapture the magic of the Final Fantasy VII Compilation, which made no sense because that was based on a game that is the most beloved in the series. No one had played anything related to Final Fantasy XIII yet and we were told there were would be several games linking them together? Ambitious, but that was a mistake. Just focus on making one game at a time and having them come out in steady fashion. We get a new freaking Assassin’s Creed game every year, but it takes 6 years to make what looks like Kingdom Hearts without Disney characters? Mooglecrap.
5. Look at other games, but don’t focus on what’s popular. The developers of FF XIII said they looked at games like Call of Duty for inspiration. Don’t do this. Please. People don’t play JRPGs looking for a Call of Duty experience. If they wanted that, they would play Call of Duty. Stick to what the audience wants, but innovate and give them the old stuff in new and exciting ways. That’s not to say ignore modern conventions. The fact that it took until Final Fantasy XIII-2 to install a Save Anywhere feature is inexcusable. It was more than overdue and things like this need to happen more often. Cutscenes that you can pause or even skip, if need be. Quest journals that tell you what you need to do next are a must as well. Sometimes people take long breaks from your game and when they come back, a little guide as to what they were doing would go a long way towards making things user friendly. The little things will add up and the audience will notice this.
That’s all I have. It all seems rather simple, but I know these steps would help revive the Final Fantasy brand and restore the trust that we once had in Square Enix. It’s not an exaggeration to tell you that during the SNES/PS1 era, if you bought a game solely because it was published by Square, you were usually in safe hands. They will likely never be at the level of trust again, but it’s worth a shot.
Oh and because this is a Final Fantasy tribute post, I decided to end it with my updated list of main series Final Fantasy games, in order of best to least best (“worst” doesn’t sound right to this fanboy’s ears). And the MMO’s are at the bottom because I haven’t tried them. Yet.
1. Final Fantasy VI
2. Final Fantasy IV
3. Final Fantasy VII
4. Final Fantasy XII
5. Final Fantasy IX
6. Final Fantasy VIII
7. Final Fantasy XIII
8. Final Fantasy X
9. Final Fantasy V
10. Final Fantasy I
11. Final Fantasy III
12. Final Fantasy II
13. Final Fantasy XI
14. Final Fantasy XIV
That’s all I got. What else can Square do to revive Final Fantasy? Be bold!