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May 25, 2015

Do We Need Final Fantasy Anymore?



You knew this was coming, didn’t you?


As of this post, it’s been a few weeks since I finished Final Fantasy Type-0 -- and of course, even more weeks since I started it.  I was nervous at the outset, but I have to admit that (minor quibbles aside), I bought into the game at the beginning.  The intro gave enough of a hook, and the battle system -- just degrees away from being a solid fighting game -- had plenty of promise.  I was ready to believe in the game and the brand at large.

But if you’ve been following the posts I’ve made over the past couple of months, you’re probably well aware that the good times didn’t last.  I’ll spare you of my conclusion for now, but I’ll say this: I don’t think I’ve EVER seen a game fall apart like Type-0 did.  And that’s saying something.  It’s reached a point where I have to wonder if The Spoony One will do a review/assault on the game as he has with FFs past -- though as of writing, it would mean he’ll have to talk about the dreadful 13-2 first.  I long for that day with bated breath.

So before I go on, I have to ask: how relevant is Final Fantasy Type-0?


I admit I haven’t been looking around all that much to gauge responses, but my guess -- or maybe fear -- is that people have chosen to ignore Type-0 because, holy crap, a demo of FF15!  And while there’s plenty of allure there, I was personally more interested in an HD re-release of a 2011 PSP game than a vertical, non-contextual, non-indicative slice (in the sense that it’s based on an incomplete form of the final product) of a game that still doesn’t have an ironclad release date despite keeping eager gamers waiting for nearly a whole decade.  But I could be biased.

I wonder if I’m the only one who feels the way I do about Type-0 (well, besides those that have commented here).  It’s kind of a numbered entry, but major parts of it do scream “SPINOFF” from the mountaintops.  On the other hand, why should that be an excuse?  Should the game get a pardon because it first appeared on the PSP?  Because it’s not 15?  Because of the name?  Or am I just projecting here?  Are people just willing to accept the franchise as-is and not dwell obsessively over the issues?  Have they given up, and just let it ride unless there’s a MAJOR design flaw?  I mean, I’m worried that people act like 13’s infamous “hallway” was the only problem with that game, and just because 13-2 didn’t have them apparently signaled that it was a superior game.  It wasn’t.

But I digress.


I should back up and say that I’m not an expert on the franchise.  My first game was FF7, and even then I played it years after its initial release -- exacerbated further because A) I did so with the PC version, and B) I didn’t go through it until years after my brother’s playthrough, itself forced to start from scratch because he was too weak to beat pretty much everything.  But when I did sit down with it (for my own run, and not just grinding on my big bro’s behalf), I enjoyed it.  And I enjoyed FF8, flawed as it may be, if only because of how badly I broke the game.  And I enjoyed FF10, even though -- again -- I didn’t play it until I got a PS2 late in the console’s lifespan.  I don’t even mind the laughing scene.

As you can guess, I never had a PS1, so FF9 was lost on me -- though to be fair, I’ve got the digital (and largely-untouched) version on PS3.  And I don’t think I need to tell you that the MMO offerings saw a big NOPE from me, so I’ve willingly skipped out on FF11 and both versions of FF14.  So basically, that leaves a couple of entries left, at least on the more recent consoles.  I couldn’t get into FF12 because of the quasi-MMO style and the let-the-game-play-for-you Gambit system, so I stayed content with watching my brother play through it.  In retrospect, I wasn’t being fair to it, and I recognize that it might actually be a really good game -- even if I don’t buy into the actual gameplay aspect.

Which brings us to The Lightning Saga.


As you probably know by now, I don’t look fondly on The Lightning Saga.  I’d played bad games prior to it, but FF13 was the game that pretty much broke video games for me; it was the game that made me realize that all heroes die someday, and those who can create things can’t be counted on to create good things.  But as bad as 13 was, 13-2 was several dozen times worse; for the life of me I can’t understand how people can say “it’s better than 13” when it gets virtually everything wrong on every level.  I have absolutely no problem declaring it the worst game I’ve ever played, and the only thing that could possibly dethrone it (that I know of) is Lightning Returns.  But damned if Type-0 didn’t do its best to take the crown. 

To be fair, it doesn’t completely fall apart in the first thirty minutes like that other game, and the battle system is usually a lot more fun than it has any right to be.  But even if you ignore some of the issues with the gameplay (which got harder each time I played), once again it’s the story where everything falls apart.  Pacing and tonal issues abound; motivations for actions on a small scale and large make absolutely no sense; it takes ages for the actual plot to kick in, and when it does it collapses with even a second’s worth of thought;  not one character comes even close to getting fleshed out.  And on top of all that, I’ve heard that in order to fully understand it, you have to play through at least twice.  Um, what?  I know that you can read books or watch movies again to catch things you missed the first time, but when I can’t understand core concepts of a story the first time through, something has gone wrong.


I can’t believe I didn’t mention it before, but there’s one instance in Type-0 that really pissed me off (besides almost everything else).  Somewhere in the middle of the game, you’re on a mission that leads you into enemy territory -- and takes you over a landmark called the “Big Bridge”.  I don’t know FF intimately, but I know it well enough to have recognized that it’s a hallmark of FF5 thanks in part to one of its most famous songs.  I just thought it was a winking reference -- something that pure fans could appreciate on their way through the mission and the rest of the game.

Imagine my surprise, then, when it stops being just a winking reference and utterly derails the plot just to appeal to nostalgia.  Gilgamesh shows up out of nowhere and goes nuts on your party, in a boss fight that invalidates all but the cheapest tactics (i.e. exploit critical hits with your long-range characters).  Who is he?  No one knows -- not even him, because he has amnesia or something.  Why is he there?  Never answered.  Why does he attack the party?  Good question.  Where does he go when he leaves?  No clue.  What impact does he have on the plot?  Pretty much none.  The most anyone can say about him is “who was that guy?”  And he never gets brought up again.


There’s nostalgia, and then there’s jerking it for a job well done…twenty years ago.  I’ve railed against nostalgia before, because I’m one of those strange and terrible people that think the past isn’t sacrosanct.  Apparently, Squeenix doesn’t agree with that mindset; instead of focusing on what it can do with its current plots and its current tools and its current demands, it would rather bank on conventions and traditions.  What’s expected and comforting, rather than what’s unique and exciting.

And I have to wonder: are we gamers at large just acting as enablers?  Are we feeding the addiction?  Millions of copies of vanilla 13 were bought, and that can’t have sent a good message to the bigwigs; dwindling sales numbers for every game in The Lightning Saga since probably did, but that still didn’t stop them from trying to cater and brownnose.  Just look at 13-2 -- it had a casino, and chocobo races, and not-Sephiroth, and more crystals.  It’s almost as if the bigger areas and sidequests were added coincidentally -- like they were more focused on adding in a different Gilgamesh fight.

All right, seriously.  He’s in 13-2, Dissidia 012, and Type-0?  What the hell?


Whatever the case, I expected more out of Type-0 -- but maybe that was my biggest mistake.  This whole Fabula Nova Crystallis project has been a disaster practically since its announcement, and made promises that no one was prepared to keep.  The first trailer for vanilla 13 made it look like we were in for some of the most action-packed gameplay the world would ever know; cut to the actual release of the game, and the autopilot battle system is just slightly different at its end than it is at its start. 

But there’s more.  FF15 used to be Versus 13, but it’s likely changed so much since the original announcement trailer that I’m about ready to swear off all trailers and info until the final product is in my hands.  And whether you like the games or not, can we at least agree that The Lightning “Saga” was just a retroactive way to recoup losses and stall for time, and not part of some grand design for the benefit of the gaming canon?  (At least I hope to all of the gods that Squeenix doesn’t think they did a good job.)


What I’m getting at here is that even if the FF brand has had debatable quality for ages -- I’ve seen arguments that everything up to FF7, and sometimes even FF6, broke the camel’s back -- it’s hard to look at things and say “Yep, there’s nothing wrong here!”  No matter which game you think was the one that ruined everything forever and ever, the bigger issue here is that there hasn’t been a game yet that’s conclusively repaired the damage done.  Bravely Default and A Realm Reborn may have helped, but the latter’s enhanced by the player-driven actions, and the former was practically treated like an afterthought until Squeenix found out that people actually like games that cut down on the bullshit.

So while it’s true that FF15 has the potential to bring back what’s good about the franchise, I’m incredibly worried.  Even if they haven’t been working on the game non-stop for almost a decade, the company has proven that it doesn’t take much to screw up the promise of a game.  If the long development time does factor in, then it could mean that FF15 is just a hodgepodge of ideas hastily sewn together -- and anyone with a working set of eyes could see the unraveling seams.

Speaking personally?  If it turns out that FF15 ALSO uses the nonsensical l’Cie/fal’Cie system, I’ll be so mad that I’ll snap a goat in half.


I think the important thing to remember is that even if FF15 turns out great, that greatness should have happened a long time ago.  We shouldn’t be at a point where the brand and the company behind it is a joke.  Think about it: even though it’s been bouncing about for decades, the worst anyone can say about the Mario games is that they’re tired of seeing Mario -- but they know that the next release will still be high-quality.  Comparatively, the worst anyone can say about Final Fantasy games is that they’re confusing, nonsensical, melodramatic, emo, angsty, boring, stupid, unengaging…the list goes on.

At this stage, Squeenix has to know that its baby has an image problem, right?  They have to know about the complaints, whether they’re from here or closer to home.  And even if they didn’t, the minds behind it HAVE to know that they haven’t been doing their best, don’t they?  They have to, because they’ve admitted (or at least believe) that they haven’t made a game yet that could top FF7.  So the obvious solution to that is to work on the flaws.  Create an engaging world, with engaging characters, on engaging adventures, and pit them against engaging villains.

So why is it that in 2011, they were still content with substituting nearly everything that could offer up some merit with nonsensical melodrama?  Why is it that a 2011 game pitted beautiful young people against an evil empire -- and a 2015 demo for the next big game has pitted more beautiful young people against another evil empire?


I’ve made the joke that Squeenix makes all of its games in a vacuum.  If they aren’t evolving, they assume that no one else is either -- and they can get away with doing the same old, same old without complaints.  But they don’t exist in a vacuum.  Hundreds of games have come out in the time between the announcement of FF13 and whenever-the-hell FF15 comes out. 

If we had to limit things to the JRPG genre, then we could count stuff like Persona 4, Ni no Kuni, Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon, Eternal Sonata, Infinite Undiscovery, Star Ocean: The Last Hope, Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, Valkyria Chronicles, Shin Megami Tensei IV, Tales of Vesperia, Tales of Graces, Tales of Xillia, Tales of Xillia 2, White Knight Chronicles, White Knight Chronicles 2, Devil Survivor, Devil Survivor 2, The World Ends with You, Etrian Odyssey, Etrian Odyssey II, Etrian Odyssey III, Etrian Odyssey IV, Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, and of course Bravely Default.

And that’s not even a complete list.


We live in a world where gamers aren’t even remotely spoiled for choice.  The genre and the medium have evolved; the former has shown just how versatile and affecting it can be for players who give it a shot, while the latter has moved in about a dozen different directions at once.  Couple that with changing times, mindsets, and gamers in general, and it’s enough to make anyone wonder why Final Fantasy ever mattered.  In the wake of sporadic releases, debatable quality, and the occasional slap in the face, the franchise has lost its relevance. 

At this stage -- after yet another bungle in the books -- I’m running out of goodwill to give.  So the question I have is a simple one: do we need Final Fantasy anymore?

Don’t get me wrong.  I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong and forced to grovel at the sight of FF15 rising from the earth like some mystic monolith.  I want the series to do well so video games can get legitimately good stories and gameplay, and not just have a franchise coasting on the name and nostalgia.  But hopes and ideals aren’t guaranteed.  Neither is quality -- because these days, sometimes it feels like that’s the last thing creators need to add.  Assuming that they add it at all.


So I guess I’ll go ahead and turn it over to you guys.  Feel free to weigh in on the subject; give me some ideas and perspectives.  Sway me, berate me, vindicate me, whatever; you’ve listened to me, so now I’ll listen to you.  Have an opinion on the state -- and fate -- of Final Fantasy? Then you know what to do.  Fire up those fingers and get typing.

I’ll say this much, though: this probably won’t be the last time you see me talk about Final Fantasy.  Setting aside the fact that the finale to my Type-0 adventures will go up after this, there are still topics that I can pull and spin into posts.  Failing that, I’m tempted to go play some of the older games; it’s been a while since I’ve gotten any mileage out of my PS2, and I’d wager it’s time I changed that.

In any case, thanks for reading.  And as tribute, please accept this non-contextual Kamen Rider clip.


Hard to believe that that was from one of the serious installments, but whatever.

4 comments:

  1. Only had time to skim through this, but the answer is pretty straightforward:

    Yes, we do. Why? Because it's the only remotely-mainstream JRPG. It's the only thing still telling a lot of gamers that the genre exists. There are other, superior options, yes. But the people at large have no clue they exist, and don't care to look. There are many people who can't think of a JRPG other than Final Fantasy, and there are several who CAN, but dismiss the rest of the genre over the art style.

    Oh, and apparently the Gilgamesh thing is a recurring thing in the series. He's in a lot of entries. http://finalfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/Gilgamesh_(Character)

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  2. My answer is predictable and biased: No. Let Final Fantasy go and let a new JRPG franchise or two take the chance to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. I don't care if it takes seventy seven years and a hundred virgin sacrifices to make it happen. Let go of the old when they're dying on a hospital bed of a deathly disease and are struggling on life support.


    Seriously though, I honestly don't care what happens to Final Fantasy at this point. I don't buy anything Squeenix makes anymore (aside from three games, all of which I dislikes) so I'm not going to cry if they end up putting Final Fantasy down. It's their fault that they keep messing up and treating their fans like abused puppies.


    Ok. It's REALLY time to be serious and not bitchy. I understand that many gamers are attached to Final Fantasy because of good memories and nostalgia. But at some point some people need to realize that the games are not perfect and that maybe preordering and buying on day one might not be the smartest move, given the shady track record. Consumers are not the puppets of producers; they aren't forced to consume the hype Kool-aid and buy whatever the master says. Believing otherwise makes me weep for humanity and that 1984 has conquered entertainment industries and sucked any good that was left in capitalism.


    ... Damn it, my bias took over again. Oh well. I give up.


    I don't need Final Fantasy, but most of the world feels that they need it. That seems to be reality.

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  3. Cripes, how could I forget that he was in FF8? Oh, wait -- I only used GFs to boost stats, and since I didn't want to have Odin stealing my party's kills, I skipped him...which meant I skipped out on Gilgamesh, too.

    Hard to believe I'm feeling nostalgic for FF8. Then again, I can't help but smile at the fact that I named my thunderbird/Aztec god of creation "Shocolate".

    But on to more pressing matters. I hate to admit it, but you're right. There isn't a single JRPG brand out there that turns more heads than FF; it pisses me off, because like you said, there ARE alternatives out there. But that's just what we have to deal with these days, unfortunately, and will probably continue to deal with for a while yet. Buuuuuuuuuuuuuut I'd like to think that if Squeenix delivers on its promise to push more JRPGs, then it'll put out something that -- however temporarily -- diverts attention away from FF to something different. Something good, ideally.

    I mean, there's a new Star Ocean coming out, which is nice. But then I remember The Last Hope, and I just go "ohhhhhhhhhh...ohhhhhhh nooooooooo..." And then I hear that this new game's got the most hallowed and not-at-all-awful of tropes, the childhood friend. Who also calls the MC "onii-chan", apparently.

    Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0OeQBY6IUk

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  4. Not to go off the rails, but I've been wondering about day-one buys for a while. Especially these days; it seems like games are more likely to NOT work on day one, or at least be riddled with issues. And it's not just a certain magical Assassin's Creed game I'm talking about; I heard that The Witcher 3 had a day-one patch that got rid of some gameplay issues...and then added in cutscene issues. I don't know if that's still the case -- that was patch 1.01, I think, and now it's on patch 1.04 -- but JEEZ.


    Then again, this is the console generation that couldn't even get Tetris right, so who knows?


    http://gamerant.com/ubisoft-tetris-ps4-problems/



    Anyway. I get what you're saying here, and I agree -- but that just opens up a lot of questions nobody's going to be able to (or wants to) answer. Maybe what needs to be asked isn't so much "do we need Final Fantasy anymore", but rather "do we need nostalgia anymore". FF's been firmly rooted in the past, and in more ways than one. At this stage, the games might as well be made in a vacuum in the depths of space. But I guess people are okay with that, for some reason? Because they had fun with an earlier FF game?


    But viewed broadly, it's not even a question you'd solely ask FF. Brand recognition, continuations, sequels, reboots, revivals -- whatever you want to call it, there's no shortage of stuff out there right now that's from the past. And even more is on the way. Off the top of my head, calling out FF means calling out Mad Max, Poltergeist, Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon, Tomb Raider, Metal Gear, Transformers, Jem and the Holograms, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, My Little Pony, Star Trek, Heroes, Hawaii Five-0, and maybe even a decent chunk of present-day pro wrestling.


    Names and nostalgia rule the day. And I don't know about you, but if you ask me? That's a problem.


    ...But you didn't hear that from me.

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