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Do We Need Final Fantasy Anymore?


But first, a preliminary question: 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.

In any case?  Type-0.  I’ve been trying to clear it, but -- well, I’ll be honest.  The more I play it, the worse it seems to get -- to the point where I’ve declared that it’s practically imploding.  That’s not the best way to describe a new (enough) game.  And worse yet, it’s left me seriously concerned about the franchise as a whole.  As if I wasn’t already.

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.

If you’ve read some of my stuff before, you may know that -- to put it mildly -- 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 isn’t doing 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 gets harder for me each time I play), once again it’s the story where everything starts to fall 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 falls apart with even a second’s worth of thought.  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 wouldn’t be so frustrated with Type-0 if it just gave us a decent set of characters.  It was a fool’s errand to expect as much from modern-day Squeenix, I know; I was basically asking the guys who couldn’t develop one character from a core cast of six to develop a core cast of fourteen.  But I can’t express just how important it is to have good characters in anything, let alone a Final Fantasy game.  At the outset, I could see something special taking form -- the card-wielding Ace being forced to come to terms with the horrors of war and shoulder the burden of loss while stepping up as the leader of Class Zero.  That didn’t happen.  Sure, there are glimpses of it, but Ace slips into the background in exchange for Machina and Rem -- two characters that I swear were ripped wholesale from a different (and even worse) game.

Machina and Rem piss me off so much that I could (and probably will) spend an entire post going on about how awful they are.  Rem’s only defining characteristics are “is sick” and “is nice”, and is pretty much only there to try and force-feed some drama -- even though the devs clearly don’t understand how to make us care about a character to make the drama ring true.  Meanwhile, Machina decides to throw a shit fit for the stupidest reasons I’ve ever seen; at the risk of spoilers, I’ll say that it’s the angst-riddled equivalent of “Old Man Yells at Cloud”.  Between the moments leading up to it and the moments that follow, it’s a complete character assassination -- even though he didn’t have much of a character to begin with.

I just don’t understand the mindset here.  Maybe I’m crazy, but I thought that the key to creating characters was to give them fleshed out personalities, motivations, conflicts, and arcs.  But Squeenix would have you believe that character creation starts and stops with hairstyles and quirks.  (You can’t even count on them to mix up their builds, or even their faces in some instances.)  I would absolutely love to see what kind of person the aggressively-designed Sice is like beyond her looks and a bad attitude, but you have to play for at least a dozen hours before you even hear how to pronounce her name. 

As it stands, Type-0’s name feels more appropriate than you’d guess -- because it feels like so much nothing.  The time I’ve put into the game doesn’t mesh with what the game gives back; that wouldn’t be so bad if I had a good cast to latch onto, but right now it feels like I only like Eight because he punches stuff, or Trey because he’s a know-it-all blabbermouth.  (Though in his defense, he can do stupid amounts of damage in one go.) 

It sure as hell doesn’t feel like I’m fighting in a war, because A) the plot gets jettisoned for disproportionate amounts of time so I can faff around at magic school, and B) with no context or development of the war or the opponents I’m up against, the game feels less like a weighty struggle and more like “go do a mission and beat the bad guys” -- who, if you weren’t aware, are (as far as I know, at this point in the story) part of the Militesi Empire.  Yes, that’s right.  The name of the “evil empire” with the strongest military force is called the Militesi Empire.  Squeenix should have just cut out the middleman and gone with the Baddie-Bad Gun Guys.  Might as well, because I’ve been playing the game almost since release day and I couldn’t begin to tell you who the main villain is -- besides some M. Bison palette swap who I assume will be replaced by some super-warrior or a god.

I really can’t answer a lot of questions you might have about the game.  It’s true that there are two cutscenes upon loading the game that give some backstory, but in the game’s context I couldn’t tell you what Class Zero’s home of Rubrum is like, what the other three countries are like, what possible stake anyone could have in a war (besides manifest destiny, I guess), what sort of damage has been done in the war, what’s being done to resolve it -- besides the stupidest actions possible, or lack thereof -- or even if there’s a war in the first place. 

I’ve been pecking away at the game almost exclusively for weeks, and the biggest impression that it’s left on me is that I should give up and play Bloodborne instead.

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, right?  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, 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 for all of you 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 think they 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.  My plan is to play through Type-0, no matter how long it takes, and no matter how much it makes my brain want to mash the eject button and launch out of my skull.  Inevitably, that means I’ll probably be tossing up a post on it somewhere down the line.  Because if I don’t express my searing hatred of Machina and Rem, who will?

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

Does it make me a hypocrite to expect others to enjoy something when they have no idea what's going on?  Probably.  But on the other hand, the fact that this is proof of dancing as the ultimate power is all anyone could ever need.

- Thanks for reading! And remember -- if you want to see more content from me, anytime, anywhere, be sure to check out my blog. Give it a read, so we can all become heroes! http://cross-up.blogspot.com/

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About Voltechone of us since 10:40 PM on 02.06.2012

Long-time gamer, aspiring writer, and frequent bearer of an afro. As an eternal optimist, I like to both look on the bright side of things and see the better parts of games; as a result, I love a game with a good story and awesome characters...and anything that lets me punch the heresy out of my enemies.

I'm a big fan of Atlus' games, and I've enjoyed my fair share of fighters and RPGs. Just...please, keep Final Fantasy XIII out of my sight. It never ends well for anyone involved.

You can check out some of my game musinga/stories/random stuff at my other blog, Cross-Up. I've also got a TV Tropes thingamajig, and a web serial novel, too. Maybe my stuff here and there will be the start of things to come. Hopefully good things, but things all the same.

Be a hero. Check 'em out.

Cross-Up -- head here for posts on games, movies, and more
My Troper profile
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I Hraet You -- the over-the-top web serial novel...of love, maybe