This summer I wrote an article for a newspaper in my hometown about what Final Fantasy XV means for the series. Like many others in the industry, I suggested that the continued success of the franchise rested squarely on the shoulders of this long anticipated title.
It’s a very solid argument against a series that has suffered from plenty of hiccups in the past several years. But recently I’ve begun to think more and more about this idea and realize I may have been wrong.
Final Fantasy was one of the biggest names in RPGs for years. This popularity exploded with Final Fantasy VII and only rose from there. It continued to rise but showed no sign of decline until the release of Final Fantasy XIII.
The game was frustratingly linear, with a convoluted story and boring characters. The paradigm combat system was a shining light amidst a sea of dull ideas. This was only exacerbated by the fact that Square Enix thought that it was a good idea to drag out the story by releasing not one, but two more games set in the world of Lightning and friends.
By the time the trilogy finally concluded in 2013 people were feeling more than a little burnt out. And despite the renewed excitement around the re-reveal of Versus XIII as Final Fantasy XV, the game’s long and complex development cycle. And now, a mere two-month before the games release fans are simultaneously excited and nervous. Many journalists – myself included – have been marking this newest release as a make or break moment for the series. But in all honesty, I think Final Fantasy will be just fine.
Let’s quickly move away from Final Fantasy XV and see what else the series has planned for the next couple of years. World of Final Fantasy releases in October, serving as a cute and stylized look back at the history of the series and the elements that have come to define it. While XV switches things up and goes for a more action-oriented approach, World of Final Fantasy is a classic turn-based RPG with its mechanics heavily rooted in the series’ past.
It’s a love letter that fans of Final Fantasy will instantly connect with. But that isn’t all Square Enix has planned. Not only will we get a chance to remember the good old times by delving into a brand new adventure, but we’ll also be thrust back into the past.
And the past is exactly where Square Enix is focusing. The next title slated for release after XV is a remaster of the beloved Final Fantasy XII. I’ve never played this particular entry but I’ve heard no end of good things. It seems to stand apart from the other games in the series, offering up combat more similar to that of an MMO. Encounters take place in the same spaces that you explore, with everything happening in real-time. It’s certainly a different approach for the series, showing how the way was paved for the more action-based take on the series that is Final Fantasy XV.
But for as many good things as I’ve heard about Final Fantasy XII, I’ve also heard that people didn’t like the direction the series was taking. So this is a great way to bring people back to both rediscover something they’ve never played or take another stab at is ostensibly the series’ black sheep.
The last release is certainly a big one. After years of saying that the company couldn’t return to Final Fantasy VII without appearing to be creatively bankrupt, Square Enix announced Final Fantasy VII Remake. But this isn’t the Midgar you remember. The dystopian cityscape has been given a new coat of paint. Everything is clean and modern, popping off the screen.
The first trailer that actually gave us a snippet of gameplay showcased the opening moments of the game. Seeing the assault on the first Mako Reactor fully realized in breathtaking detail is amazing, but one crucial is different. The combat in the original game was turn-based. You waited until your ATB gauge filled up and then you could make an action.
All that has been thrown out the window in favor of a combat system akin to Final Fantasy XV’s, replete with dodging and slashing. While the story of FF VII is what people really remember, this change is still disheartening. It will be a very different kind of game, not to mention the fact that it will be released in three distinct parts.
Is it a butchering of what is remembered as a classic or a reimagining of a game that hasn’t aged as gracefully as people remember? Either way, we’ll get to re-experience the story, but we also don’t know what changes will be made there. Can they still keep the scene where Cloud Cross-dressers in 2016? Will they need to make amendments to update the narrative and make it appear normal in a modern context?
Out of the three games I just talked about, FF VII is by far the most uncertain release, but these three games are all very different beasts. One delves into what makes the series great, simultaneously looking back and forging its own path. The FF XII remaster is a faithful journey back into one of the less remembered entries in this storied franchise. And FF VII Remake is a reimagining of a game that holds its own place in the annals of history.
All this is to say that while Final Fantasy XV sets its sights on the future, moving in a new direction and trying to breathe new life into the franchise, the series is already leaning on nostalgia to soften what could be a very hard blow if XV flops. The series will not be dead. It will be nearly impossible to kill this series that has continued to pump out spinoffs and re-releases for years, but the future may be a bit more conservative. If the radical shifts they are attempting don’t play well with the audience then they will need to go back to the drawing board, possibly returning the series to its roots in a very literal sense.
What if Final Fantasy XVI were just a high fidelity version of Bravely Default? Maybe the innovation that the series is known for would be missing, but it would be a surefire way to ensure that players like what the game has to offer. And despite being a take on a classic RPG, Bravely Default still added mechanics that drastically changed the flow of combat.
Final Fantasy may just be wandering too far from its roots. The series feels the need to constantly reinvent itself, but the most drastic way the games changed from entry to entry – at least in terms of gameplay – was making changes and improvements to the turn-based systems. The games in the series that have strayed the furthest from this classic formula tend to be the most divisive. While returning to its roots may seem like an overly safe move, but safe might just be what Square needs at the moment.
Regardless of what you think of the direction Final Fantasy XV may be taking, the franchise is far from doomed. There will still be games to play and a past to reminisce about. This will take the shape of looks back, beautifully realized amalgamations of past adventures, and retellings of stories so timeless they stand above their contemporaries.
Final Fantasy is going to be fine, it may just hit a few bumps in the road in the next several years. But like any great franchise, it’ll be hard as hell to keep it down for long.
Steadfast Nintendo fan who loves to expand his knowledge of the gaming industry. Follow him on Twitter to hear his musings on games and life in general.