I recently finally started on Final Fantasy XIII. It became one of those games I was originally hyped over, but that fell from my personal grace. Only to be picked up once it hit the budget bin. Let down by the negative reviews and word of mouth I had started to question if I wanted to even get this game. I usually do follow my own path when I pick games and ignore most review grades, but they did get me thinking. Why was I originally so hyped for FF XIII?
I used to love the series. Having basically bought my first Playstation just because I loved Final Fantasy VII so much at university. Once I saw it at a fellow student I just had to have it. And for a long time Final Fantasy and Squaresoft became marks of quality. But that time has long since past. I did not even finish Final Fantasy X. I just stopped caring just before the final battle. Final Fantasy XII I barely touched. And suddenly every game released became branded as some sort of Final Fantasy by Square.
I can't exactly recall if this was around the time they merged with Enix to become Square Enix. But something of the magic had disappeared. The stories where getting dumbed down and formula's reused. But how come? I can of course only guess.
It seemed to me that Square started to worry to much about being the leading JRPG developer. With Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy they held (and still hold) two household names in gaming. And it seems they kinda collapsed under the weight of it. Trying desperately to break into bigger and bigger audiences. With bigger development budgets, that need to be covered by releasing 'cheap money makers' along the way. Hurting their good name with bad quality games along the way.
But also desperately trying to reach an audience that isn't there and alienating their original audience. With the easy one click battle systems and ever more focus on graphics the RP of JRPG seems to have disappeared more and more. The stories are still okayish. But its nothing truly exceptional after decades of telling similar ones. The combat is dumded down to solve the 'problem' of people not liking turn based combat (but I do!) and the free roaming is limited because it's to expensive to generate that with such graphic's..... at least it is when you started development on the PS2 and needed to rewrite most of your work.
Ironically the one annoying feature of JRPG's they should have gotten rid of they didn't: Save points. A useless system that is more a hindrance then anything else. It does not add to the difficulty of a game. It just forces upon you a lack of control over when you can stop playing the game. I will rejoice the day Save Points are abolished and developers stop thinking that difficulty correlates to when your able to save your game. I have a job, a wife and a kid. I don't always have time to first move to the next save point before I can stop playing.
Having said all this, I will say Final Fantasy XIII is still fun. It's so far been more of an interactive movie you can play with one hand on the controller. But the story seems interesting. Enough at least to keep me interested to see what will happen next. A level of storytelling that most other games lack. Still I can not wait for the day when a game with the Square name on it will again be something to instantly trust as quality. Rather then doubt it like I do now. It's not because the JRPG genre is in a bad state. I like JRPG's. I don't need much change. It's because Square Enix is so scared it's in a bad state they are trying to fix something that isn't broken. Mainstream Western Audiences never really loved JRPG's, FF VII was a fluke that it did. Stop trying to cater to an audience that just doesn't care and go back to catering to the fans. FF VII was a master-piece that can not be achieved again. Deal with it Square. Except by a remake... hint hint ;) Just cut development budgets and make fun JRPG's again. Don't try and go to big. Until then I keep my hope on studio's like Mistwalker.