What IS Final Fantasy? After finishing FF13 in preparation for FF13-2 I asked that question.
Originally, Final Fantasy was the last ditch effort of SquareSoft to remain a video game company. Back then, the company was in dire straights and only could produce one more game. Thankfully FF1 was released and it was a smash hit. Heck, I finished it on IOS a few months ago and I have to say that game still holds up really well.
What, in 2012, is Final Fantasy? In 8-bit age it was was introduced me to RPG’s. In the 16-bit era it was what showed me what kinds of story telling video games were capable of. In the PSOne era it pushed graphics to a new level. And in the PS2 / PC era it pushed the graphics even further, explored on-line worlds and showed me lots of zippers.
Over the recent years the Final Fantasy brand has taken a few hits. Most noticeably the release of the atrocious MMO, Final Fantasy 14. That game release was marred by multiple bugs, lackluster graphics, outdated features and the ‘reassignment’ of the entire production team. But the MMO was not the only game to have troubles. Final Fantasy 13 was released in January of 2011 to an eager public, but to many the game felt only half baked.
The reasons for the 13th franchise installment’s nearly five year production cycle are varied. Bad management, the switching of consoles mid-development, multiple changes in direction and story, etc.
Again I ask, what the heck is this series now?
I think that Final Fantasy is a story. I think it is a story about characters that have been given a challenged that is much greater then they are and the journey to complete. In my eyes this is what Final Fantasy should be. But that is not what is has become.
Sure, the last several games have had that element. In 13, the characters have been given a crazy task that, if they don’t complete it, then they will be turned to monsters. But where 13 fell on it’s face was that there was no time spent on diving into what made the characters tick. Now it could be argued that some other characters in the FF universe are the same (FF7’s Yuffie for example) but the main characters usually have some time dedicated to them in order to flesh out their story (and level them up).
That didn’t really happen in 13. Yes, we got some character development, but why was Lightning so cold to the world? Why is Snow the eternal optimist? What the hell happened in the past with Vanille and Fang? And why are the all the big bads in this game giant, evil faces?!?!
Along with the characters development the series has fallen into a rut artistically. Final Fantasy 10, 10-2, 11, 12, 13, 13-2, and 14 all have the same exact art and character design. In fact, the most radical difference in the art was having a black man as a main character in 13. I realize that in 11 and 14 you can make your skin tone very dark but I don’t think you can make someone with actual African features. What I’m trying to say is that the character design style has become stagnant. I believe what is needed in this respect is to turn to some other artists and see what they can come up with.
And while they are at it, I think that (1) control of all characters needs to be returned to the play and (2) the battle/leveling systems need to be simplified greatly. You know, the materia system for FF7 was pretty straightforward, why can’t that be built off of a little bit?
I’m starting to ramble now so let’s try and bring this to a close.
In 2012 Final Fantasy is, sadly, over complicated. What I mean by that is I believe that SquareEnix has lost site of what has made the series great. Meaningful and complex characters that are on a fantastic journey to stop evil from destroying the world. That and Chocabos.