Last month Square Enix announced that a sequel to Final Fantasy XIII would be coming out later this year. While that news was met with applause from some, it also produced a few winces.
As a person who has been a long-time Final Fantasy fan, I definitely fall into the category of, “oh man, just call it quits already.” I’ve put many hours of my life into the games, and I can honestly say that if it were announced tomorrow that no new Final Fantasy games would be released, I would be OK with it. Sure there would be the initial pang of sadness, but I’d quickly realize that it was for the best.
See, as each new year passes, the Final Fantasy franchise keeps finding ways to thoroughly disappoint me. This isn’t to say that I won’t claim it to be one of my favorite gaming franchises of all time, even though I base it on everything from the originals up to X, and I will go to bat with anybody who says that the franchise as a whole is crap, because it’s not.
For those who are unfamiliar with Final Fantasy and how it came to be, the story is very inspiring and filled with hope. In the 80’s, Squaresoft was in a world of hurt. The games they had published weren’t enough to keep the company afloat and they had to file for bankruptcy. Hironobu Sakaguchi, a man every RPG fan should know, took the lead of the development team and created a game based off of current hits: Enix’s Dragon Warrior, The Legend of Zelda, and the Ultima series. Sakaguchi, and the rest of the team at Square, put everything they had into this little NES cartridge game they titled Final Fantasy because, for them, that was their sink or swim moment.
Fortunately for all involved the game was a huge hit, and has become the behemoth it is today. The only downside was that they weren’t anticipating a sequel, obviously, so while future installments would retain the Final Fantasy moniker, the cast and story would be completely different.
Some things have remained constant like having a character with the name of Cid, Chocobos, some of the Guardian Forces/Summons, and more. Having those tiny things threaded throughout the universe remind the gamer that, even though things don’t perfectly weave together to tell one long cohesive story, there are some core elements and values that make up Final Fantasy.
Many Final Fantasy fans fall into two categories: those who think that VII is the best in the series, and those who strongly disagree. I fall into the latter category. Sure VII introduced us to Cloud, Sephiroth (who isn’t the greatest villain, btw), and an epic story, but the main thing that stood out to all was the fact that a character was slain. Seeing Sephiroth spear through Aeris like she was a piece of shish kebob made many a gamer cry, and shocked the community as a whole. Never before had something like that been done, and it was a rare moment where gamers finally realized that they cared about the characters they were spending time with.
I will admit that the Aeris death didn’t make me cry, which was a bit odd because I normally cry at everything that’s sad (blame those womanly hormones), but I wept like a child while playing VIII. The intro to the game, and the overall score, was beautifully composed by the talented Nobuo Uematsu. It helped usher in feelings of love, loss, and hope. Final Fantasy VIII really struck a chord within me even though I know that many gamers were displeased with it. I can understand how they didn’t like the massive change in protagonist since Cloud and Squall are two different types of characters, but the relationship between Squall and Rinoa was very fulfilling and I found myself rooting for them within minutes of them meeting.
Throughout the decades we’ve been given amazing villains like Kefka, faced tough opponents like Emerald, Ruby, and Omega Weapon, and even had a showdown with Sin. The way the antagonists developed through the games also played a key part in the audience being able to connect with them. When you really think about it, all the way up until Final Fantasy X for PS2, Sakaguchi & Co. could do no wrong.
The stories were the kind where you would find yourself wanting to learn more about the world the characters were from, the languages, species, and so much more. I have found myself on random Wikipedia pages over the years just to learn more about the characters I loved or the summons I could conjure, and I know I’m not alone. The writing in Final Fantasy had such a profound effect on me that whenever I play RPG’s now I think to myself about how the team behind the FF franchise could’ve done a better job and fleshed things out and provided more depth. It’s a real shame that new fans of the franchise have no idea just how glorious things used to be, and since most will never want to play a game that isn’t to todays standards, those 8/16-bit classics will remain untouched.
For me personally Final Fantasy lost me when X-2 was released. I did play through it just so that I could have closure between Tidus and Yuna, since X left us waiting for more, but the game really jumped the shark and the franchise hasn’t been the same ever since. After the overtly feminine X-2 we saw Final Fantasy go into new territory with an MMO and then a slight return to form with XII, but with the incredibly linear XIII and second foray into the MMO world with XIV, will we ever get Final Fantasy back again?
That question, and that question alone, is why I think the franchise should be either put on an indefinite hiatus or flat out cancelled. I realize that it would be a massive blow to the RPG genre and many a gamer out there, especially myself, but it pains me to see how it has declined and will continue to do so. There have been things that fans have been clamoring for, like graphically updated versions of VII and VIII for current consoles, yet instead of releasing a solid seller we are given games like Dirge of Cerberus or X-2.
I realize that it would be wrong to only want Square to release updated versions of their classic FF titles but it would at least pacify the fans while they really put a lot of effort into a true return to form. I sincerely hope that I am proven wrong and that future titles are kick ass and are everything we could ever want and more, but I honestly just don’t see that happening.
So, I ask you all this: How do you feel about the changes made to the Final Fantasy series? Do you find yourself enjoying the games the same as you did years ago, or have you noticed a steady decline in standards? Additionally, would you prefer a flat out cancellation of the series as a whole or would you be open to a hiatus that would allow them to concentrate all of their efforts and come out with something really mind-blowing? Let me know in a comment below!