Video Games & Tech

Final Fantasy: Still a relevant franchise?

by on 02/11/2013
When it comes to the Final Fantasy series, my opinion usually differs from the rest of the community; I believe that Final Fantasy 7 was incredibly over-rated, it’s largest downfall being a lacklustre cast of characters with very little personality between the lot of them. (Bear with me!). Probably something equally as shocking is my fondness for the XIII saga thus far. Yes, at the end of the (stunningly orchestrated, beautiful looking) day, Final Fantasy XIII was quite linear. “One big corridor” they said. “Mash X to win” they said. And whilst all of this is semi-true, I believe they missed the true brilliance of the first part of the trilogy: The story. With it’s narrow paths, always sending you forward, they could control the overall user experience to a tee. WIth Square-Enix perfectly controlling the rate of the story progression, they could decide when a large scale event needed to take place, or rather just a quick breather, dependant on what had happened previously and what was to come.
Regardless of my feelings with the recent Final Fantasy games, the point of this post is to discuss the following point: Is Final Fantasy still relevant? Many would argue, based on the XIII saga (beginning with XIII, finding a happy middle ground with XIII-2, and ending in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (gameplay opinions on that later)) that the once prominent RPG series has lost it’s way, becoming lost in the shadow of numerous “Tales” releases, as well as falling behind more Western RPG’s, such as the Mass Effect trilogy. The most recent entry to the FF line-up was Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, a majestic MMORPG that rose from the ashes of the abysmal original release in September 2010. Featuring beautiful environments, superb music by Nobuo Uematsu et al, and refined gameplay mechanics, the popularity of this title was enough to create havoc for early adopters upon the relaunch. Error 1017 plagued every user, bought them down to their knees and only the strongest persevered (or, once logged in, never logged out…Guilty!)
With copious amounts of references to previous games, ranging from Server names, a mount from FF6 and, of course, some guy called Cid, Square-Enix may have cottoned on to when the height of the popularity was. Our very own Mike Orvis contributed to this article, mirroring that exact sentiment:
In this day and age, the FF series has become more of a nostalgia bomb. From around VI to about  IX (arguably X) It has included a sense of adventure and morality with ingratiating characters and just the right amount of fun/ serious ratio. 8 for me is one of the best love stories ever. And the end of IX, when Garnet runs to him and beats Zidane’s chest? That moment there captured a love that many are still looking for. Beautiful storytelling and an astounding soundtrack, These past games were truly wonderful. Now? Not so much.  Square are trying to fix what isn’t broken; the current games seem directionless in theme and have lost the grandiose feel of their predecessors. Less graphics, more feels!” – Mike Orvis
With the Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD remaster being in development and, hopefully, coming out soon, I was able to have a chance to sit down and play the opening segment of it at this years Eurogamer Expo. With updated textures and music, I managed to experience the demo from Tidus picking up his sword and rushing through numerous enemies with Auron by his side. The memories of a younger RPG player came rushing back, willing me to go further, being stopped in my tracks by a large fish creature that acted as the end-of-demo boss. As the “Thankyou for playing” rose from the bottom of the screen, I had to pull myself away from the demo unit, something a lot of gamers did not have the will-power to do, sitting there, convincing themselves “Just one more time.” Regardless of how I feel for the game though (I love it, if you couldn’t tell), I’ll always have a niggling thought in the back of my head; “Are they just milking the series?”. A very close friend of mine, as well as a fellow RPG-lover, also has those worries.
The question ‘how relevant is the Final Fantasy series today?’ is an interesting one. On the one hand, the series is still considered to be one of the archetypes of the JRPG genre by many gamers, especially those who look back fondly on the pre-FFX-2 glory days. However, on the other hand, many gamers, and I include myself in this category, feel that Square Enix has lost its way somewhere along the line, with each new Final Fantasy game becoming more and more diluted from that original, wonderful formula, with constant spin-off games (XIII-2, Lightning Returns, etc.) increasingly feeling like a quick way to milk the franchise for a little bit more money, rather than an interesting and new experience. 
This is not to say that I do not hold out hope for the future of Final Fantasy – I hear good things about the newly relaunched FFXIV, and I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t a tiny bit excited about the release of FFXV (formerly FFXIII Versus). But Square Enix has a way to go yet to prove to me that they can steer this franchise back on track. – Chris Bateman.
This is to show off the Miqo’te (FFXIV race) costume, honest!
Going back to the Final Fantasy XIII saga, I was also lucky enough to sit with a demo of Lightning Returns and experience the new direction they’re taking the game with the last entry to the trilogy. With a more action orientated combat mechanic, the “Press X to win” line that the critics used will no longer work here. Where each face button acts as a different attack, with each attack using a different “energy” value, the bar soon diminishes. Each class, being easily swappable with a shoulder button input, having it’s own bar, juggling between classes, attacks and, for those infatuated by Lightning’s looks, clothes, there was never a dull moment to be had. Whilst I am saddened that the tales of Lightning and her “merry” cast have to come to a close, a believe it will end on a high, especially with the return of arguably the most conflicted villain in the franchise.
Now, whilst this has, for the most part, just been my experiences with Final Fantasy as opposed to actually answering the question I initially laid out, let me round everything up. Throughout my gaming life, Final Fantasy has always been a prominent figure, rounding out the holy triad of games that I personally enjoy most (Pokemon and Legend of Zelda filling the other two positions). As of late, however, it has never quite reached the heights that, say, Final Fantasy IX personally hit. With many seeing XIII and XIV (1.0, initial release) as low points, it forced Square-Enix to admit the titles did indeed have a lot wrong with it, and with each iteration of each respective game, they have tried to build upon the stronger points and iron out the weaker aspects. As shown in Lightning Returns, they’ve added a heavy influence of action gameplay to the main combat mechanic, giving many the impression that a “true” RPG, like what we had seen in the previous generations, can no longer strive to the same levels of popularity that it once had. Instead, by mixing it with other strong gameplay mechanics, such as 3rd person shooter (Mass Effect) or a more action-based combat as seen in the Lightning Returns (and the fluid-looking combat of next-gen beauty FFXV), it can find relevance in this modern era of gaming where, somehow, unimaginative FPS’s wow audience year after year.
Some people, however, have lost all faith in this once revered series that could do no wrong.
“The reason I think Final Fantasy is entering into it’s “Golden years” is that it seems to be following the route of mainstream cinema. Hoping to claim the glamour of previous epics to make there flat game of the present look appealing, like they are literally picking up any scrap of former glory to polish a turd with.” – Sam Reeman
What do you think? Is Final Fantasy still at the forefront of the RPG genre, or has it faded into irrelevance now? What could it do to improve? Am I the only one that thinks FF7 is over rated? Please leave your comments below!