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October 9, 2014

Let’s discuss Final Fantasy 15(‘s trailers).

Some time back, there was a comment here on Cross-Up that asked what I thought of Final Fantasy 15.  Having largely and forcibly divorced myself from FF after the absolute debacle of the so-called Lightning Saga, I haven’t followed it as closely as I could have.  Then again, it’s not as if there’s been a ton of information to sink my teeth into; despite nearing the nine-year mark in terms of development time, I doubt I’m the only one who only knows scant plot details and a handful of names.  Frankly, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about FF15 is the “please be excited” meme.

It’s a little hard to believe that FF15 is the rebranded version of FF Versus 13.  On top of that, it’s hard to believe that that big reveal -- itself suspected, but never confirmed -- came at E3…E3 2013, that is, with nothing to show for it a year later but some trailers.  On the other hand, it’s been revealed that Squeenix mainstay and Kingdom Hearts mastermind Tetsuya Nomura has been taken off the project/director’s seat, suggesting some potential changes under the hood.  On the other (other) hand, supposedly the game is only 55% complete.  FFS, Squeenix.  You not only botched your entry into the seventh-gen consoles, but let babies grow into third-graders before putting out something.

*sigh* All right.  You’ve got trailers out now, huh?  Okay.  Let’s see what you’ve got. 

For the record?  I’m not going to bother with EVERY trailer, or any trailers before the FF15 rebranding.  Supposedly there’s been a slow transformation from the reveal all those years ago to the last Versus 13 trailer, but there’s no telling how much got scrambled and shifted in the console switch.  Well, there’s that, and the fact that I doubt there’s enough concrete evidence of what would happen to justify a look.

So.  Let’s use two trailers as a proof.  Has the house of Final Fantasy learned its lesson?  Is it willing to step into the future without forgetting the essence of the past?  Or are we just in for more of the same?  Obviously, that’s going to be tough to tell without having the full game in our hands (once upon a time, vanilla FF13 got people stiff in the trousers), but at least we can make some educated guesses.  So let’s make some guesses, shall we?

Gather ‘round, folks.  We’re about to dig in to some virtual s’mores.

You know, looking at those two trailers back-to-back makes me think that USGamer’s Jeremy Parish had it exactly right.  Now that Nomura’s being allowed to go all in with Kingdom Hearts III (God help us all), it’s entirely possible that his influence in the creation and direction of trailers is no more -- or at the very least, lessened.  The ’13 trailer is a swirl of jargon and spectacle, and tries to make out the game as something epic, but also mysterious and emotional. 

I guess we’re supposed to care about this “fated meeting”, presumably between leading man Noctis and some girl from the past, but I have more interest in that guy who stuck out his tongue than any female characters introduced by that point…and it certainly doesn’t help that the female factor is marginalized in both past and present trailers. 

Well, FF13 drew inspiration from the Call of Duty games.  Maybe Squeenix figured that the next step was to follow along with Assassin’s Creed.  PROGRESS!!

Truth be told, I’m not usually one to put much stock in trailers, much less go about analyzing them; given how much potential they have to outright lie, the only ones I’ve consistently watched for ages have been those for fighting games.  Still, I’d like to think that there’s one thing that a trailer should try to accomplish in its run time: to give a viewer grounds for excitement.  Even in the absence of all the necessary info, there should be something that at least tries to be concrete, so that viewers know exactly what they’re in for, or what they’re going to get into.

Based on the ’13 trailer, it looks like Squeenix is banking on spectacle to do it for them -- as usual.  And in some ways, it’s an effective tactic.  To quote CinemaSins: “Things!  Excitement!”  But while that’s a strategy that can and does work for movies, it’s reached a point where that’s not enough for games.  Sure, that’s a lot more dynamic action than you usually see in a FF game, but so what?  That action isn’t too far removed from plenty of modern games in the past few years; I got vibes from God of War and Uncharted more than Final Fantasy.  Is that a good thing?  Your mileage may vary.

The trap, I suspect, is that some people are going to assume that that’s the sort of action you’ll get in every enemy encounter -- or at least a large number of them.  But I doubt that’ll be the case, especially in light of the ’14 trailer.  If FF15 was a movie, it could get away with stuff like that -- but as a game, and especially in a trailer, it comes off as a scripted event. 

Sure, it might all be taking place behind Noctis’ back, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be an exciting experience.  I seem to recall events in Uncharted where Drake has to run from a wall of onrushing water; escaping from that, I’d think, is as simple as holding the stick in the right direction.  Even if Noctis’ world is falling apart all around him, what’s stopping those big set pieces from being just a million-dollar way to cap a chapter?

Past or present, it looks as if the defining gameplay mechanic of FF15 is Noctis’ ability to throw his sword and teleport to it.  I can’t begin to imagine how much of a pain in the ass that was to implement, but as I guessed, it doesn’t look as complicated as you’d think.  It almost reminds me of the grappling hook from Just Cause 2, or moving around with the Devil Bringer in Devil May Cry 4; you take aim at an enemy or point on the map, press a button, and throw your sword so you can warp to it.  I’m concerned that you can only do that at certain points outside of a battle -- so that like the Devil Bringer, you can only go from one glowing point on the map to another.  (That would make the set pieces more manageable.)

Still, the mechanic could have plenty of uses in combat, and the trailers imply as such.  Mobility is a big part of combat, and I can see sword-warping as a tool the player can use offensively and defensively.  You can close the gap in an instant by tossing a sword at a goblin.  If you’re about to get walloped by a behemoth, toss your sword back and you can zip out of danger -- then toss it again to re-enter the fight.  If you can take action while hanging from a high wall or a lamp post, you can snipe with magic -- or heal yourself after taking a beating.  And since there’s an implied emphasis on team attacks, I can imagine you chaining one combo after another by warping next to your comrades.  There’s no telling if that’s how the combat will go, but that’s a possibility I’m hoping for.

The problems, most likely, are going to come from the story -- as they have before.  That was a common complaint for FF13 and its ilk, even from the supporters who actually liked the combat.  As an RPG -- as part of a genre that can’t stand unless it has a good story -- FF15 has to redeem both the franchise and the company.  Most notably, they have to avoid relying on stock archetypes, and filling its cast with a bunch of gibberish-speaking moon-people.  There’s a LOT more to it than that, of course, but the characters are the biggest part of the equation; even if the world-building isn’t up to par, a strong cast can save the day.

I’m going to assume that this new cast can offer up something worthwhile, but the first trailer doesn’t inspire much confidence.  There’s plenty of dialogue that sets up the conflict du jour -- a war between kingdoms to try and seize some crystals, and some guff about the world ending -- but I can’t summon the will to care about that as much as I should.  (It doesn’t help that those details are sandwiched between/intercut by platitudes and pontification that belong elsewhere.)  Who is Noctis?  Who is his running crew?  Who is his father Tongue Man?  I actually like that we got to see Kid Noctis, but we’re not playing as Kid Noctis; I need to get a better sense of who he is in the present, and the ’13 trailer didn’t give me that.  Certainly not for his running crew.

But my biggest issues are twofold.  Who is the villain, and why is there a conflict?

Is it hasty of me to expect a trailer to give me those answers?  Yeah, probably.   But I can’t help but think back to FF13.  That game didn’t have a singular, identifiable villain until…what, twenty, twenty-five hours in?  And when it finally threw players a bone, the most it could spit out was the god-pope whose penultimate form was a giant wall-face robot.  And as I’ve explained many, many, MANY times before, FF13’s entire conflict -- premise, progression, and even inciting incident -- was built on bullshit. 

Not only was it a conflict that didn’t need to happen, and a conflict best solved by the “heroes” just doing nothing, but focused more on the angst of a bunch of those aforementioned moon-people -- which would have been fine if we could form a personal bond with them, but that was about as easy as scoring a date with the Martian Manhunter.

My fear, then, is that FF15 is going to make the same damn mistake.  Sure, I don’t exactly need to know why the crystals are important right now; I expect that the game will explain the reason for the conflict satisfactorily.  But who’s our villain here?  Some old guy in obtuse armor and a cape?  At this stage, that’s not enough.  I need to see his dynamism.  His menace.  He may be marching forward at a Dutch angle with an army in tow, but when has the evil empire’s army EVER managed to stop the good guys?

It implies one of two things. One: he’s not visually distinct on purpose because he’s not the true villain, and will be replaced by the halfway point by someone with a greater impact (the girl Noctis knows, presumably -- Stella, last I checked).  Two: he is the real villain, but he’s set to lose because he’s old and ugly, while the heroes are young and beautiful.  To be fair, I acknowledge that the red-headed guy at 1:23 could be the true villain, but the fact that Squeenix could feel like it has to boot out the old guy -- again -- leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  It’s like they’re saying, “Pfft.  Old people, amirite?”

Silly Sqeenix.  You’ve clearly never heard of Rowen.

In all fairness to the company, I think that the 2014 showings are markedly better.  Not only has there been a demo that shows straight-up gameplay (albeit a demo more interested in swiveling around black clad bishies in the rain), but the actual gameplay trailer looks more…well, let’s call it “honest”.  It looks like those are the sort of events and the sort of battles you should come to expect come release day.  Rather than being something designed to capture the awesomeness of Noctis and his running crew, it feels more like candid footage -- like you get to see the gang bumbling around in fields, but it still shows off some real team synergy story-wise and gameplay-wise.  FF13 faltered there as well, so these early glimpses look set to make the much-needed fix.

In fact, the TGS ’14 trailer at large feels a lot more sedate.  It shows off the warping, but without any set pieces falling apart around Noctis.  It’s more eager to show off a bunch of guys going on a road trip than weigh a viewer down with jargon and grandeur.  So you could call it down-to-earth.  You could say that it’s showing off the new focus on simplicity, and the spirit of Final Fantasy even if this new game takes place in some alternate present.  It remains to be seen if that’s true (even if Nomura’s out, the game’s still following his general blueprints -- which doesn’t inspire confidence), but at least they tried a different appeal from, say, making out some pink-haired heroine to be a one-woman-army, then warrior goddess, then savior.  Arguably, all three at once.

And yet…it kind of feels like the game is more boring now.

I know that sounds like a complete paradox, considering the rest of the post.  But hear me out on this.  At this stage, we expect some level of absurdity out of the FF brand; the problem with the more recent fare is that said absurdity went way too far.  It was different for the sake of being different, and to serve a plot and concepts best described as “shambles”.  But even so, I didn’t want it to lose its character.  It just had to pull in the reins -- build the framework, and keep the absurdity from being birthed by an utterly incomprehensible mess.  Remember, this is a series that for years was proud to show off mountable giant chickens.

The ’14 trailer implies that they’re shying away from all that.  It’s true that the suggestion is that there’s going to be a greater focus on that team synergy, which I appreciate (that’s what makes Xenoblade, Lost Odyssey, and several Tales games what they are).  But in exchange…what, exactly?  Sure, series mainstays like Behemoths and the Adamantoise pop up, and the plot revolves around crystals, but what else?  Where’s the creative spark that follows?  Does Squeenix have the skill to make a world so similar to our own compelling?  And even if it does, where’s the spectacle?  The pizzazz?

Is this game trying to be something that it isn’t -- something designed to appeal to others while forgoing its natural character?  Because if it is, then THAT’S a surefire way to screw up.

Let it be known that I don’t consider spectacle as an automatic failure.  I just think it works best when it’s done right.  Good spectacle is something that’s amazing because, as they say, “you’ve never seen anything like it”.  There has to be some level of originality, created either by the situation or the characters smack-dab in it. 

Ingenuity, intensity, energy, motion, all those things and more -- take them to their apex, and you’ll get a set piece that truly is worth remembering.  That’s what makes Platinum’s games, like The Wonderful 101 and Metal Gear Rising, so incredible -- because the spectacle goes miles beyond the norm.  Or to put it another way, it’s what makes Devil May Cry 3 a fan favorite, while DmC is…not.

It doesn’t say good things about the game when the most memorable moment was its main character spinning through his trailer while a pizza slice covers his no-no bits.

To be fair, there is a level of awe in seeing an Adamantoise the size of a small island within spitting distance.  But the impression I get from the trailer is that the gameplay at large is going to be (at best) more methodical.  Tactical; that is, you have to consider your moves and position very closely.  Or if you’re feeling harsh, you could just say it looks slow and clumsy -- clunky, even. 

There’s no doubt some real work and big money went into animating each character’s stumbling animations, but it hardly makes for an impressive sight.  All of those frames won’t help out in combat; they actually hinder you at times in modern games that don’t require strategic precision, so why would they be welcome here?

But again, the thing that worries me most about FF15 is its story.  How many changes and revisions have there been since the original reveal?  God (or perhaps Satan) only knows.  I can only hope that all the pieces come together for a cohesive whole, but as it stands there are a lot of questions that need answering.  And many of them tie into the world-building -- the very thing that crippled FF13

Why are the prince and his crew driving through the countryside and slaying monsters?  Why are they (mostly) using melee weapons in a modern setting?  How has the spread of magic affected the world?  What roles do science and technology play?  How is their world different from ours?  Can the plot of their story be solved with a simple phone call, as it could last time?

So as you can guess, I’m worried about FF15.  But I’m still optimistic about it.

There’s a lot we don’t know right now, and there’s a lot we won’t know until the game is on store shelves.  That’s problematic (as it always is), but it’s not a total fail-state.  I want to believe that by this point, Squeenix knows how many times and how furiously it goofed up.  Even with a couple of Apology Editions released for its latest entries, I’d think that FF15 is going to be their definitive apology.  “Sorry for releasing a broken MMO!  Sorry for making a trilogy nobody asked for!  And we’re so sorry about Dirge of Cerberus!  We’ll make it up to you with a title that isn’t a ramshackle mess!”

Honestly, though?  I want to like Final Fantasy again.  I doubt I’m the only one.  The franchise is a major part of the gaming canon, and has had an impact on gamers across generations -- console or otherwise.  They’ve been affected -- touched, even -- by titles past, and they deserve to be affected again.  Not driven to rage, despair, and betrayal at seeing something they loved become a mockery; they’re just hungry for a good story, engaging combat, and an adventure they can tuck away in their hearts.  Any game can do that, regardless of the men behind it.  Regardless of past mistakes.  FF15 has a lot to prove, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t even have the potential to do so.

If nothing else, it can’t be worse than The Lightning Saga.  It just can’t.

Never forget.


  1. What worries me about FF15 isn't what's in the trailers, but rather what the new director has been saying. A 1-button combat system where the game just guesses what you're trying to do sounds like a recipe for disaster. I get simplifying things, but that goes a bit too far.

  2. No doubt about that. FF13 -- and 13-2, perhaps even more so -- ended up getting absolutely KILLED by one-button combat. What's the point of creating and switching Paradigms if you can clear 90% of the game with Relentless Assault?

    And "guessing what you're trying to do"? I haven't heard about that, but yeah, now I'm worried too. Is a system like that going to facilitate multiple play styles? Different strategies? Will enemies respond to it? I can't help but think back to Kingdom Hearts 2, a game that actively punished the player for trying to use a magic-based build; if the game's set to railroad me toward one dominant strategy, then it's set to screw up all over again.

    I'll give the game this much, though: the trailers gave the impression that you'd be using weapons of varying power, weight, and length. I assumed that would mean you'd get buttons dedicated to each (a light sword/attacks on Square, a giant sword/heavy attacks on Triangle -- you know, the usual stuff), but I picked up on Noctis switching between weapons thanks to a blurb from some site. In theory, that could set up the potential for some cool combos...but again, if it's all taking place on one button -- weapon-switching aside -- then it's all for nothing.

    Fingers crossed for now, though. I mean, how many times can one company make the same mistakes?

  3. Yay, you remembered my suggestion :D I'm happy to see that you took the time to examine Final Fantasy 15, especially after the latest changes. I don't think it's an understatement to say, that this will be the make-it or break-it for the Final Fantasy franchise,

    Concerning the story, I think I should let you know that Tabata already confirmed multiple times that he wants to stay true to Nomura's vision and characters. And it makes sense, seeing as script was likely finished somewhere around 2011/2012. The Squeenix-Heads probably don't want to delay the new entry in their big franchise even further by rewriting the story just because of a directional change. The whole reason Nomura was removed (at least officially) is that they want their two big games (KHIII and FFXV) to come out as soon as possible.
    Knowing that I think we can be cautiously optimistic about the story. There seems to be the misconception going around that Tabata was the one who introduced the concept of brotherhood and roadtrip-movie-feeling, while in reality Nomura talked about these concepts as early as 2009. Another interesting interview-tidbit is that Nomura explicitly mentioned that he intends to keep the plot of FFXV very simpel and focused on the relationships between the character. I am looking forward to see if he upholds this promise. As a whole I think it will be interesting to see where the stor will go. While we already have a good feel for Nomura's stories I am excited to see what he can come up with without Disney's limitations.

    A far more alarming issue I think is the gameplay, which Tabata definitly made his own. Say what you will about Nomura, at least his games always has entertaining gameplay (with the exception of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days) or (in Re:Chain of Memories' case) at the very least interesting ideas to evolve the usual hack'n'slash. As you can see in the 2013-trailer under his direction you could have manually selected the weapons mid-combat, which is perhaps the biggest change under Tabata. Tabata mainly seems to have been put on the directiorial chair because he is very time-efficient while Nomura is more of a perfectionist. For example, Nomure planned for all the characters to be playable, while Tabata confirmed that this won't be the case anymore. I haven't really a good grasp on Tabatas gameplay-capabilities, which is why I will probably get Type-0, but from what I've read it seems as if Squeenix is trying again to combine the ARPG- and traditional JRPG-systems, the very same thing that XIII tried and failed to do. While the Action-Cross-Battle-System compared to the Paradigm-Shift-Battle-System seems to have at the very least some additional strategic features such as positioning, the warping and the return of MP, it remains to be seen if Tabata can deliver it as an exciting and entertaining combat-experience.

    On another note, now that the Kingdom Hearts-series is completely on the Playstation 3 (with the exception of Dream Drop Distance and Chi) will you consider examinig the series as whole? I would be interested in your thoughts on Re:Chain of Memories, 358/2 Days and the very much expanded Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix+.

  4. Yeah, I figured I should take a look at the FF15 trailers, if only to try and get a stable(ish) projection on how good the game will be. Plus my brother suggested that I take a look at them, and the Best Friends Zaibatsu talked about it a little, so...here I am. For your satisfaction, of course.

    I don't think I'm going to get TOO in-depth with Kingdom Hearts, though. Maybe it could happen at some point; I do have plans to do a post on KH2, but beyond that? I watched a playthrough of Birth By Sleep from start to finish, and it was so aggressively terrible that it made me want to bang my head against something until everything went black. 358/2 Days stars Roxas, who made the first and last three hours of KH2 terrible, and I'm not what you'd call a fan of Organization 13 as a whole. Maybe I'll give Chain and 3D a glance someday? I don't know; I suspect my rule of thumb right now is "If it doesn't have Sora, it's garbage." Given that those two do, they've got a better shot...but then again, I'm under the impression that those two have all sorts of auxiliary garbage.

    Cripes, I miss the days when there weren't, like, six different versions of the same person running around. But on to more relevant matters.

    I've also heard that the story's following Nomura's vision. I guess that's a good thing in the sense that there'll be consistency; from what I've heard, FF12 ended up getting hamstrung by its chieftains shuffling and breaking down mid-development. So on the plus side, there shouldn't be any jarring course-corrections in the actual game. On the other hand, IT'S STILL NOMURA'S VISION. I can appreciate and look forward to an increased emphasis on brotherhood, even from the Zipper-Meister, but I'm not convinced that he and his cadre have gotten over all their conceits. I want to believe that he and Squeenix at large can give us a simple story, but they haven't demonstrated that in a solid half-decade. I defy any of them to explain to me the rationale behind FF13's bullshit fal'Cie system besides "for drama's sake" or "because otherwise, there would be no plot".

    As for the gameplay? It cannot possibly be any worse than 13's. It absolutely cannot. I'm inclined to believe that based on the trailers, it's already miles ahead. If there's a free range of movement and attack, then it'll be solid. I mean, it's a problem that they're backing off on giving us multiple playable characters, but by and large that doesn't hamper KH. I can deal with it as long as they don't break a system that's...well, not exactly easy to get down, but certainly difficult to get wrong. I'd be (mostly) fine with 15 if they just imported KH2's battle system wholesale and tweaked it. But if Squeenix is going to go all in on the action front -- even with RPG blending -- then it needs to take lessons from the best out there. Platinum Games, the Tales Series, and even some Capcom classics -- if they're taking inspiration from some of those instead of slapping on a battle system at the last minute (as they did with vanilla 13, IIRC), then maybe they're in a better spot.

    Maybe. I mean, there's a demo for 15 coming out eventually, yes? So I guess that'll be the proof of some nine years' worth of iterations. Either that, or the death knell.