Final Fantasy: Dying or Revitalizing?

It seems Square Enix and Final Fantasy just can’t escape gaming news. It’s not surprising, really. These are two of the biggest names in the industry. But like so many great things, both Square and Final Fantasy have been stigmatized with mediocrity of late, begging the question for many just how long they can continue on. In a recent interview with IGN, Motomu Toriyama (director, Final Fantasy XIII trilogy) and Yuji Abe (gameplay director, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII) discussed changes to the Final Fantasy series and how the series will continue to adapt. Their answers were…disappointing.

Final Fantasy is a topic that’s as likely to divide people as politics are, so there are no doubt some who will say Square is on the right track with their altered direction and herald Final Fantasy XIII as a standout title in the series. I do not fall in that category. While I enjoyed many aspects of XIII, the game as a whole package did little to impress me, and its sequel was even worse. Alas, it seems the entire franchise is doomed to take cues from the XIII trilogy, as Square no longer has the competence or foresight to deduce what gamers really want.

According to Toriyama, Square needs “games angled towards more casual gamers as well as those for more high-end players…” The problem here is Final Fantasy is not a casual gamers’ cup of tea. Historically, the games have forced players to invest 40+ hours just to complete the main quest. In order to target a casual audience, Square would have to whittle stories, severely dumb down gameplay mechanics, and basically lose the essence of what makes a game Final Fantasy. This is how we end up with titles like All the Bravest.

FFXIII battle

So pretty, yet so little substance

I understand the business aspect many companies are taking. They see tons of revenue generated from mobile games and either just want a slice of the pie or are driven by the fear that they will not subsist without competing in the mobile market. The problem is, not everything is made for the casual/mobile market, and it’s extremely disheartening to see Square diluting its flagship franchise to try to stay relevant. That is not to say they cannot succeed (Final Fantasy Dimensions was well-received), but they are too willing to reshape the series into something current fans abhor and potential new fans are uninterested in.

Yuji Abe weighed in on gameplay changes, stating the company implements the battle systems they feel best suit the series. In all honesty, I don’t have too much complaint with that. Unlike most, Final Fantasy XIII’s battle system was one of the things I did like about the game, and a shift to more real-time combat isn’t the worst thing in the world. I know many would disagree, but for me, it delivers a level of intensity turn-based combat just doesn’t offer. However, Abe stated mobile titles might not necessarily diverge from turn-based combat, which I find odd.

Square’s entire concept seems to be based around catering to both the casual and core market, yet they seem to be misreading what each audience wants. I would think hardcore Final Fantasy fans would prefer titles with more turn-based combat rather than real-time, while casual audiences might be looking for something a bit faster-paced, which turn-based obviously doesn’t deliver. I could be wrong about this, but it seems odd that they are taking a criticized aspect of the XIII trilogy and forcing their hardcore fans to accept it, while the “casual” audience is rewarded with a more authentic Final Fantasy experience. Again, I don’t mind real-time, but I know many RPG fans loathe it.

FFIV battle

Ah, the glory days

Moving on, Abe stated about Lightning Returns, “…we wanted to make it more accessible for all users rather than just core gamers.” This came in response to criticisms of the easy difficulty of the XIII trilogy. Now, having previously stated they wanted to appeal to both markets, they are unwittingly admitting they are placing more emphasis on casual gamers (which stereotypically don’t play consoles much). Of course, Abe says they’re attempting to appeal to “all users,” but they are clearly aware their choices in recent installments have incurred the ire of their longtime fans and “core gamers.” The question must be asked, then, why they are giving preference to a casual market in lieu of a more stable, preexisting market.

I think it’s because Square is a poor company. While I loved their games in the 90s and early-to-mid 2000s, they have proven this decade they just do not know how to keep ahead of the curve anymore. Tomb Raider somehow failed to meet their expectations, even though it sold over three million units in under a month. They rushed Final Fantasy XIV out the door and ended up having to reboot the entire game. They let Final Fantasy XV’s development cycle spin out of control, and many assumed it was vaporware until it was rebranded. None of these are choices a stable, competent company would make. And of course, their CEO, Yoichi Wada, resigned not long after these missteps and the entire company was restructured.

If Square really wants Final Fantasy to remain relevant, they need to rekindle the spirit of the franchise and start releasing titles worthy of the name. Instead of focusing only on high-end graphics and easy-to-master gameplay that appeals to “all users,” they need to think, “What would make this game the best we have to offer?” Initially, Lightning Returns had elements like penalties for retrying battles, which were cut from the final product. It’s a shame Square doesn’t even trust their judgment anymore and feel pressured to water down difficulty so wimpy gamers can play through the game. If nothing else, they should include varying difficulties so that it really appeals to all users.

Final Fantasy fandom will be split on this issue, but I think everyone can agree the franchise is not what it once was. I think most would say that’s a bad thing. There are those who say Final Fantasy needs to adapt to survive, and while I’m not against them changing things up a bit, you still don’t fix something that ain’t broke. If they continue twisting the games beyond recognition, I fear Final Fantasy may die off, or at least lose everything that made it such a great franchise.

What do you think? Feel like Square Enix has lost their way and ruined Final Fantasy? Excited about the company’s new direction with the franchise? Let us hear your thoughts.

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  1. Bob

    The series died for me when they stopped caring about open world, active party sizes and actual character/story development.

    So yeah, it started dying with FF7.

  2. Storm

    I’m excited for the new direction. Never felt they dumbed down the gameplay because they wanted to appeal to casual gamers.

    “The problem here is Final Fantasy is not a casual gamers’ cup of tea. Historically, the games have forced players to invest 40+ hours just to complete the main quest.”

    I don’t think a game should be judged by the amount of time it takes to clear. LR have 50+ content.

    “If nothing else, they should include varying difficulties so that it really appeals to all users.”

    LR have a Hard mode option.

    “I could be wrong about this, but it seems odd that they are taking a criticized aspect of the XIII trilogy and forcing their hardcore fans to accept it, while the “casual” audience is rewarded with a more authentic Final Fantasy experience. Again, I don’t mind real-time, but I know many RPG fans loathe it.”

    The action was praised in FFXV, it’s not a problem even within the fanbase.

    • Stephen P

      That’s cool. I have come across people who thoroughly enjoyed XIII.

      My point about the length of the games is that casual gamers, by definition, don’t invest as much time in gaming, so if you want to have a standard Final Fantasy (like you pointed out, LR has over 50 hours of content), it’s not going to be easy to appeal to the casual market due to the length.

      It does have a hard option, but not until you’ve already beaten the game, and the hard mode doesn’t include original features that were cut, like the penalty for retrying battles. It’d be nice if hard mode was available from the beginning.

      I have heard a lot of fans gripe about the shift in combat in the series. Again, it doesn’t bother me, but I’ve heard people compare it (pejoratively) to hack’n’slash games and generally down it.

      Thanks for your comments. It’s nice to hear and discuss differing opinions!

      • Storm

        From what I know, there is a penalty when you lose a battle or use the Escape option: you lose 1 hour of the remaining time.

        Also, LR is supposed to be open. I don’t know if you watched the Wildlands demo, the area is vast and big.

        • Stephen P

          From the IGN article I linked to (quote from Yuji Abe):

          “…unless you get defeated by the monsters you’ve taken on, you’re not going to lose any time. A time-gambling element isn’t included but, in the original version, if there are some things you don’t do so well you lost some time.”

          You are right the penalty is there if you’re defeated (I misread the quote originally), but the last part of the quote indicates they scaled back on a lot of that, which is kind of a shame. He even went on to say, “That element could have stayed, I think, but we wanted to keep it accessible.”

          That doesn’t mean the entire world map is open, though. It could be like the original where Gran Pulse was open, but the rest of the game was linear. Or maybe the whole game is completely open world. I still doubt it provides the same experience as the world maps of earlier installments, but I could be wrong. If the game gets amazing feedback, I may pick it up and see for myself!

  3. Justin Fencsak

    FF has gone downhill since the peak of FFVII. Yeah, every ff since then i beat (ffviii with gameshark cd, ffix on my own, ffx and ffx-2 on ps2), but ffxii was hard. didn’t care at all for ffxiii. Skyrim was good fun. Seems square needs to take a page from Bethesda or even the creators of Dark Souls and make a true rpg.

    • Stephen P

      I would honestly say Square should take a page from their company 15-20 years ago. The Elder Scrolls and Demon/Dark Souls are more western RPGs, while Final Fantasy has always been a pretty strict JRPG. I love FF’s continuing emphasis on stories, but at this point it seems to be a ton of melodrama with mediocre gameplay. In my opinion, they need to return to the core of the series and rediscover what made their earlier titles so great. Everyone has their own opinion, though, and I’m certainly not discrediting yours.

  4. Liam Lawrence

    For me, FF went downhill when SE decided to make an online game (XI). They started to recover with XII. Online Games are NOT true RPG’s therefore do not deserve to carry the Final Fantasy name. SE need to sit down and play the great 3 (VII, IX & X) and remember what made a Final Fantasy game. Only then will they produce another great FF game deserving of the name I lost interest after XII because the story element is evaporating at an alarming rate. FF games were never aimed at the casual gamers, that’s why Crash Bandicoot exists! Concentrate on the game, SE!, if they try and cater for everybody, they WILL fail… again.

    • Stephen P

      Agree on most counts. I feel the glory days of Final Fantasy were IV-X. IV is probably my second-favorite numerical installment and the first where Square really pushed the story element. I’ve heard MMOs, by design, don’t have a heavy emphasis on plot, so I’d agree taking FF online may have not been the best idea (at the very least, it should have been called Final Fantasy Online instead of being a numerical title…same with XIV).

      Square’s main problem is confusing in which ways to cater to the different audiences. Honestly, like you said, FF just isn’t a casual game (no RPGs really are), and certainly a console title isn’t going to attract casual gamers, who now are mostly considered mobile gamers. It’s also just bad form to knowingly neglect your existing fans in a feeble effort to make a little more cash.

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