Earlier in the week, I was reading this article about the supposed slow dying of the Final Fantasy franchise, and it made me think about my own fandom in the series as I was growing up. For the most part, I agree that the franchise as a whole is a shell of its former self, and I’m not going to pretend like I was nearly a vested fan to care so much about the writers, producers, directors, or whatever positions people held that made the old games great that when they left or moved on, yeah I guess I should have been concerned about the direction of the future games, but I didn’t.
If I were asked to pinpoint the precise spot where the series began its gradual turn downhill, I would say it was from the moment that Final Fantasy X-2 was conceived. It was at this point did the series break a two-decade old tradition of never making a direct sequel to any one particular game, despite the potential that any one of them may have had. Not only did FFX2 break the tradition, it ended up being a pretty shitty game by all popularly reviewed standards. This commenter seems to have nailed how I thought about it:
But FFX-2 was where it became clear to me that Final Fantasy was dead. It was an insipid, grindy package of fan-service that not only insulted fans of the classic Final Fantasy games, but also fans of the original FFX, completely undercutting the original story by bastardizing its own characters and ruining the (ostensibly) tragic sacrifice of Tidus at the end of FFX. That’s when I really woke up and realized that the series I had fallen in love with was gone, turned into a shambling, undead mockery of itself.
The key to this statement is the obvious fact that FFX2 was essentially nothing but a game that was essentially fan-fiction come to life; caving into all varieties of fan-servicing from objectification and sexy-fying the female characters, giving them a wide variety of ridiculous outfits, outrageous story arcs and swerves that did indeed undercut and deconstruct lots of the plots of the original FFX, and of course forcing relationships that the retarded Twilight-like romance seekers demanded, down the throats of the players.
It was the first time that I’d seen the developer that I long admired for their games just completely showing a complete lack of regard for their consumers and releasing a way below sub-standard product for absolutely no motivation other than the pursuit of profit. I don’t necessarily know if it actually succeeded at making profit, but the fact that there’s a copy of this vapid game in my own house (not mine) shows that there were indeed people who did plunk down money to get it.
I didn’t play X-2, and I haven’t played any subsequent Final Fantasy since, because frankly not a single one of them have seemed remotely worth trying, nobody’s told me that I was making a mistake by not at least trying, and I’ve had no regrets, really.
Also mentioned in the aforementioned link was the recently released iOS Final Fantasy game, All The Brave. When I saw the trailer for it, I actually felt a little excited for it, because it looked like a chaotic rush down memory lane with their retroactive sprites, music and map artwork, along with the fact that there apparently were up to like 30 characters in battle. It looked like a clusterfuck of graphics and sounds, but it still looked interesting enough to drop down the purported $3.99 it was advertised at.
Then the initial reviews came in, and they were mostly nothing but disappointing. You as the player have almost no control over what goes on in battle. The battles are pretty random encounters that lacked any parity and could swing as far back between being capable of stomping the enemies to the enemies stomping you. Acquiring the marquee characters from the actual Final Fantasy series was completely random.
But what killed it for me was the reveal that the game was essentially an endless money sink for the company. $3.99 got you the app and the introductory map to the game. But if you wanted to delve deeper into the game, each additional map would cost you $3.99. When you tired of the generic characters and sprites, and wanted some familiar faces, you certainly had the option to try and get characters like Cloud, Yuna and Kain, but surprise! They cost money too. “Legacy” characters were $0.99 and were selected completely at random, so there was no guarantee you would get the guys you wanted. Kotaku broke down the math, and essentially if you wanted to get all the maps and characters in the game, it would run a player just under $50. For an iOS game.
That’s not where it ends either; say you did spend the fifty bones to get all the content; due the sporadic nature of the battle system, you never know what you’re going to get. So just because you have all the awesome characters that are slotted into your battle ranks with no regard or customization, the enemies are still plopped in front of you with a fairly equal chance of beating you as you beating them. So when your party inevitably loses a match, every character involved supposedly takes 2-3 hours of actual live time before they’re eligible to play again. But fear not, because the game gives the “gracious” option of paying another $0.99 to flat revive everyone, so you can save time!
This is all like if I bought Street Fighter for my old SNES, but still had to pay quarters to play it. It’s absolutely fucking insane and absurd on Apple/SquareEnix/Whomever was responsible for this piece of shit’s part to expect people to not be unhappy about all of this.
I’ll admit that my vision could be potentially clouded by disdain for SquareEnix, but all of this had made me look back through the Final Fantasy franchise as a whole, and rethink how I think about it. Personally, I think the pinnacle of the franchise as a whole was Final Fantasy VI, the one released as III in the US. Once the races to the next-gen systems went underway, I think Square began to lose sight of what made the series great to that point; strong plots, good storytelling and interesting character development.
I played VII – X on the Piss1 and Piss2; VII was the only one of them I finished. Sure, the later ones, I was growing up and my interest in games were pretty sporadic at points, but I’ll stand by the statement that a truly captivating video game will have time made for it, no matter what was going on in life at the time. I simply lost interest in VIII at one point, and screwed myself hard early on by grinding, and the enemy level-scaling bit me hard eventually, and I stopped playing, citing the game as flawed and broken with a uninteresting story and uncaptivating characters (except Quistis). IX was refreshing at first, and made me think the series was headed back in the right direction, but it was apparent that the story wasn’t that good to me when a long layover interfered, and I had little desire to try and pick up where I left off. X was beautiful, capitalizing on the capabilities of the Piss2, but as a result, it’s what I like to often call a “million-dollar body, ten-cent brain” kind of game that is all fluff and no substance. I lost interest in X faster than a race car hitting 60 miles per hour.
Despite the technological advancement of those games, none of them can hold a candle to any of the Final Fantasy games on the NES and SNES as far as I was concerned. They made up for their rudimentary and primitive in comparison sprite graphics, with vastly more interesting complex characters, deep plots that weren’t so straight and cut, and challenge factors that gave players a more sense of accomplishment for overcoming, instead of seeking the aids of glitches, or five minute, un-skippable summon cut-scene sequences to do all the work for you.
Ultimately, despite my bias towards the older 8- and 16-bit Final Fantasy games, even those don’t hold a candle to Final Fantasy Tactics, as far as I’m concerned. The original one probably has the most complex, swerve-filled, deeply layered plot that could possibly make an interesting book or a movie, and I’d go as far as to say that even the two GBA and DS iterations of Tactics Advance and Tactics Advance A2 were far more fun and playable than any Final Fantasy VII and beyond. At this point, it’s almost insulting to the Tactics series to even call it Final Fantasy, considering how putrid they’ve become throughout the generations, but I guess without the name it might never have launched.
I didn’t think I’d really have this much to say about Final Fantasy games in general, but the bottom line is that SquareEnix seems to have transcended the line between making good games for profit and churning out sub-standard products to make as much money as they possibly can. I get that making money is ultimately the goal of any business, but there comes a point where if the pursuit becomes to fervent and lacking vision, the long-term goals will suffer when they alienate their target audiences.