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.