The notion of Final Fantasy Versus XIII being retitled or rebranded as Final Fantasy XV is not a new or interesting opinion, but it's one that I definitely believe has a lot of merit and I think would probably be a boon for the franchise as a whole. I guess now is a good time to mention that for the purpose of this blog post, I'm going to go ahead and assume that Versus XIII ends up being as cool as it seems, and not total shit, which is unfortunately a very real possibility given its protracted development time.
First, for those who might be unaware, Final Fantasy Versus XIII is one part of the large
clusterfuck subseries of the Final Fantasy franchise known as "Fabula Nova Crystallis", which currently consists of the following games: Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIII-2, Final Fantasy Type-0 (originally titled Final Fantasy Agito XIII), and Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Additionally, there are trademarks for Final Fantasy XIII-3 and Final Fantasy Haeresis XIII. Initially, Fabula Nova Crystallis was meant to be a collection of different games and other supplemental media that would be set in the same world and bound together by a common mythos. However, this idea seems to have largely been abandonded as evidenced by Agito XIII having its name changed and dropping the XIII moniker due to it not fitting in well with the other games, as well as the fact that Versus XIII's connection to the world of Fabula Nova Crystallis is apparently tennuous at best by admission of the producer working on it.
I've come up with two main reasons why it would greatly benefit Square to reposition Versus XIII as the next core, numbered title in the series, and I'm going to try and outline them for you to the best ability. The first is that the Final Fantasy XIII "brand" is toxic. And this isn't even a recent thing. It's been that way from the very beginning. When the Fabula Nova Crystallis project was first announced six years ago, it had a lot of people shaking their heads. Here was a new Final Fantasy game that was getting unearned sequels and spinoffs the very day it was announced. Square was giving us more Final Fantasy XIII long before we knew whether or not we even wanted more of it. For better or worse (worse) Final Fantasy VII and X received their offshoots because they were wildly popular games. They earned them. With Final Fantasy XIII Square was trying to artificially manufacture that same level of rabid fandom from day one, only I think the majority of people saw straight through that kind of marketing-driven bullshit. From the word go, people already had a bit of a distaste for Final Fantasy XIII.
Four years later, Final Fantasy XIII is on store shelves. By all accounts it sold well enough, but the critic and fan reaction has been tepid at best. Then came Final Fantasy XIV. While not part of Fabula Nova Crystallis, it's a game so terrible that Square decided to go back to the drawing board and rebuild it from the ground up after it was already released. The one-two punch of Final Fantasy XIII and XIV has unarguably damaged the brand as a whole. Square has said as much themselves.
Next we have Final Fantasy XIII-2. Square promised this was going to be a better game. They said they were addressing the problems people had with the first one. I must give credit where credit is due. It seems they actually made good on improving on some of the aspects of Final Fantasy XIII that people took issue with. However, it seems that it was too little too late. In Japan, the sales have been much lower than is expected of a Final Fantasy game, and while it has only just been released in the west, reactions have been less than enthusiastic. Many fans even think that despite fixing some things, XIII-2 is even worse than its predecessor in other areas. This paints a pretty grim picture for anything XIII related. Though I do want to be clear: Despite what you or I might think of Final Fantasy XIII or XIII-2, they're not terrible games. They aren't abominations. However, I think it's rather safe to say that moving forward they (as well as XIV obviously) will be remembered by most as a stain on the franchise, and any future game closely associated with them will have an increasingly difficult time fighting the XIII stigma and finding an audience who will view it with an open mind.
"Okay," you're hopefully saying to yourself, "you've made the case for why it shouldn't have a "XIII" in the title, but why not just call it Final Fantasy Versus? Why does it have to be the next big game in the series?"
Well, aside from the fact that "Final Fantasy Versus" makes it sound like a fighting game, the second reason it should be elevated to the next numbered title is that, to put it bluntly, it looks fucking awesome. Way better than XIII. In fact, it looks like it could be by far the coolest, freshest, most modern thing to come out of Square-Enix in many, many years. It has the potential to have the broadest appeal of any Final Fantasy game for a long time and be a crossover hit. Old school Final Fantasy fans are excited about it because it's going to bring back towns and shops and an overworld that's even navigable with an airship, as well as other classic elements that have been missing from the series for a long time. However, more importantly, I think could reel in a lot of new fans. Many of whom might not normally play a Final Fantasy game.
For starters, there are a lot of what game journalists might call "modernized" gameplay elements. You're given direct control of the characters during battles. Meaning, it's not turn-based, it's all real time and actually pretty action oriented. You can pick up and use enemy weapons, including guns. There are driveable vehicles to be found in the game. Additionally, Versus doesn't have that look that turns so many people off. You know what I'm talking about. The world doesn't sport that same cotton candy colored, ultra glossy, futuristic aesthetic that has unfortunately dominated the franchise in much of the last decade. It actually greatly resembles our own modern world, a fairly unique setting in RPGs of any type. Also, despite the fact that Tetsuya Nomura is directing Versus, his "stink" as Patrick might say, is thankfully and mercifully absent from the character designs. All of the characters wear normal-looking clothing that wouldn't be too out of place were you to see someone wear them in the real world.
Despite what connections Versus may or may not have to Final Fantasy XIII, it's so much more than some mere spinoff that might normally be relegated to a handheld. It's a full size, big budget, HD console game. It has so much more going on than the game it was spun off from. It's the most ambitious, forward-thinking game I've seen Square-Enix come up with probably since Chrono Trigger. A lot of people say they're tired of the same old shit coming out of this franchise. They say they want Final Fantasy to go in a new direction, well here it is. Versus XIII is that game. It's the game I've been hearing people say for years that they want out of the next iteration of Final Fantasy. The only problem is that it's a spinoff of a game most people dislike. It's sure to be overshadowed by the mediocrity that preceded it, therefore its destiny is that everyone will ignore it and write it off.
It could be that game though. The game that renews people's interest and fervor for the series. The one that brings back some modicum of respect and prestige that the franchise once held. That's the game Versus could be if Square were wise enough to divorce it from "Fabula Nova Crystallis" and Final Fantasy XIII, instead allowing it to become the next flagship entry in the series: Final Fantasy XV. Of course it would take more than one good game to turn around around a franchise, but it could just be the catalyst.
However, again... this is all assuming it doesn't end up being complete garbage. :P