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Final Fantasy XV’s Battle Against Nostalgia
Final Fantasy was released in Japan December 17, 1987 on the Nintendo Entertainment System. In those 27 years we’ve seen time travel, a motorcycle chase, a twenty-story cactus, a man suplex a train, and many other ridiculous and amazing moments. When a series lasts long there is inevitably a legacy of greatness somewhere in its history. Sports fans will often refer to this as the “prime” of one’s career. In the eyes of most Final Fantasy loyalists, the series’ prime rests between Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy X. Odds are that if you ask someone which game is their favorite, it will be somewhere in that range. Why is this relevant? With success like this in any form of media (especially video games) a brand or series will build a legacy. With that legacy comes two things: a lifetime of praise for what you did; and a lifelong burden for what you will do in the future.
Nostalgia is a funny thing. Sometimes games are so good and mean so much to us that we become protective of them. As more Final Fantasy games are released, fans are becoming angrier than ever. They don’t like seeing these mediocre games coming out, besmirching the legacy of their beloved franchise. I’ve seen so many articles, threads, and forums pleading for Square Enix to go back to its roots. Give us magic, turn-based action, overhead views, towns, characters we can name “Wiener,” etc. This isn’t the solution; this will just create more of a problem. If Square Enix were to take the old-school approach, there’s no way it could meet expectations. The old Final Fantasy titles are classics because of the era in which they released, what they meant to us, and the magic they still hold. Trying to recreate that magic would end in disappointment and fall flat to our expectations. What we need from Final Fantasy XV isn’t something that preys on our nostalgia. We need something that combats it.
New ideas are what keep a franchise fresh. Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Grand Theft Auto, and Resident Evil are all games that have dared to take a chance and have been rewarded for it. After Final Fantasy XII and XIII I had pretty much written off the franchise. These weren’t bad games, but they failed to captivate me in any way. There weren’t any fresh ideas or compelling new worlds to pull me in. With the nightmarish development cycle of Final Fantasy Versus XIII, I had already conceded in my mind that video game purgatory had taken it hostage and it would never see the light of day. When it was revealed that Final Fantasy Versus XIII had become Final Fantasy XV, it did nothing to pique my interest. But then last month’s Tokyo Game Show happened. With that came a Final Fantasy XV trailer.
The trailer opens with a party of four young men riding along a dirt road in a convertible. Dressed as if they were pulled straight out of a J-Pop video, our heroes look up in awe of what could only be described as a gigantic turtle. For the next ten seconds we’re subjected to a bunch of expositional nonsense, but what forces me to take pause is the battle system. It seems to be a hybrid of open world exploration with set battle encounters within the world. During combat there is entertaining banter between you and your allies. It takes a page from Final Fantasy XII and XIII, allowing you to control your character while your party operates independently. Despite my criticisms of Final Fantasy XIII, the battle system did have potential. With some refinement, it could be something special. From what I see (and hope), Final Fantasy XV could be the one to provide that refinement.
Alongside the battle system, the setting for Final Fantasy XV is trying something new, as well. We don’t know if this road trip will be a theme that persists throughout the game or just a little excerpt, but it shows something different. All I hope is that the game does away with many of the tired RPG tropes and embraces the new ideas present in the trailer. I’m fine with the damsel in distress. I’m fine with the sword-wielding chosen one. I’m fine with summons. I’m fine with Chocobos, Moogles, and Cactuars. What I’m not fine with is playing it safe. Don’t give me the “Go here, do this, get that, bring it here” monotony. Give me something more. Force me to immerse myself in this fantasy world. Make it so I’m not twenty hours in praying it will end soon. Give me a new experience.
The RPG landscape has changed so much since Final Fantasy‘s inception. JRPGs are as strong as ever, and Western RPGs are constantly raising the bar on quality and immersive experiences. Because of this, Final Fantasy can no longer sit back and lean on its reputation for success. Games like Dragon Age, Persona, Mass Effect, and The Witcher continue to redefine the genre. Somewhere in the awkward middle sits Final Fantasy, a once powerful juggernaut cursed by its own nostalgia.
With budgets increasing exponentially, I can’t blame Square Enix for playing it safe. For all its criticism, Final Fantasy XIII was a moderate financial and critical success that spawned two sequels. Square Enix could keep continuing this pattern of mediocrity and still find success in the end. That’s not what I want from them. I want them to take the series I love so dearly and give it a second life. If Final Fantasy XV is everything I want it to be, I will be elated. If it’s another dud, I’ll be disappointed, but I’ll understand. I’ll write off the series again until that one trailer, gameplay video, or review convinces me otherwise. I’ll continue to hope, until the end, that Final Fantasy will one day return to prominence. Like I said, nostalgia is a funny thing.