By: Stephen Crane (photo: courtesy Flickr user Omarukai)
Over the years, one JRPG series has been viewed as the pinnacle of its genre. Unfortunately, after 24 years, the franchise is starting to show its age. Final Fantasy, which first made its debut in 1987 is in a rut, and perhaps it is time the main series faded out and allowed itself to suffer a natural end.
Final Fantasy was once known for having accessible yet nuanced gameplay. It then set itself apart from its contemporaries by having an immersive, deep, and (when it hit its stride) emotionally impactful story with characters that were interesting and relatable. Gamers came to love even the characters that weren’t necessarily given too much attention and the quirky creatures we’d see like chocobos or moogles. Final Fantasy also usually meant open worlds with plenty to explore and hidden items that weren’t necessary to win the game, but were interesting quests for completionists.
Unfortunately in recent games, the mechanics have either been too complicated (FFXII), too simple (FFXIII), or downright broken (FFXIV). The storylines have been bland without emotional impact, and the characters have ranged from stereotypes to flat out annoying. The once open worlds we found up until FFXII have been replaced, for the most part, by a guided tour like what we found in FFXIII. If a game dares allow us to feel a little bittersweet fondness at the loss of a character (FFX) we are then handed a J-pop themed sequel, which brings the character back from the dead and cheapens the emotional impact of its successor (FFX-2).
I can't say the continuation of Final Fantasy storylines is completely bad, though. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, the 2005 movie follow-up to the 1997 game, respected where it came from and allowed us to feel Cloud's continued guilt over Aerith's death from the game, and the joy of his redemption when he was able to move past his guilt and become his own person again. Square Enix had a hand in the creation of this movie, and it truthfully could have made for a deep, compelling game. Square Enix could have had another masterpiece had they released a game with half the emotional impact as the movie.
In response to the fan complaints about many of the broken mechanics in FFXIV Yoichi Wada, Square Enix's CEO, stated "the Final Fantasy brand has been greatly damaged." The truth, however, is that the brand gamers enjoyed and related to has been tarnished for quite some time and Square Enix needs to either take the time to bring gamers more of what brought them to the franchise in the first place, or they simply need to let the franchise fade. FFXIV isn’t an isolated occurrence, and its sloppy execution is merely symptomatic of Square Enix resting on its laurels and forgetting to make sure the developers can actually be proud of what they put out.
Advent Children proved it’s possible to release a sequel with real emotion, while the open world and mechanics that weren’t overly complicated of FFXII showed the mechanics can still be innovative, yet retain the Final Fantasy feel. Square Enix needs to stop accepting lazy development and sloppy design. Instead, they need to focus long and hard on not only the quality of their games, but setting in place a rigorous standard for what gets a Final Fantasy name. A moogle or chocobo does not a Final Fantasy game make.