Ok so maybe hate is a little strong and to say I loathe the entirety of the franchise couldn’t be further from the truth. This is more of a lamentation for what Final Fantasy has become. Join me then as we discuss the ins and outs of a gaming stalwart now over 20 years old.
Final Fantasy and I have had something of a rocky relationship. I was first exposed to the series at a young age when I played Final Fantasy VIII at my cousin’s house (veterans of the franchise can probably ascertain my age bracket from this information alone). I was amazed by the monsters, the summons, the freakin’ gunblades! For someone who had only recently discovered Mario, this was quite the culture shock. I later enjoyed a brief romance with VII, failed to get involved in IV or V and then fell madly in love with IX.
It’s only in later life I’ve been able to go back and truly appreciate these games. All feature fantastically new and interesting ways of executing the RPG mechanic. The Materia system, the Job System, the Ability System and others allow you to battle using a wide array of strategies. And what battles you will have; fighting against gods and super-soldiers and in one case, a tree. Each game set out on its own path, telling its own bold narrative.In 2002, I decided to rent the newly released Final Fantasy X from Blockbuster. I went in expecting an exciting RPG adventure. I came out feeling confused. The game didn’t seem to have the same magic as the previous games. None of the characters seemed particularly likeable. The story felt convoluted. Even the battles felt poorly structured. What was the difference in class between Tidus, Auron and Wakka? How did that sphere system actually work? I persevered however, and over time, had a bit more fun with the game.
But X was where I split from the series. Suddenly it was all sequels and MMOs. I just couldn’t muster the interest anymore. The game descended into generic looking characters and overly complex plots. I didn’t really understand how XI would work. XII entirely passed me by. And here we are at the crux of the problem; Final Fantasy XIII. To me, it barely stands up as an RPG, let alone a Final Fantasy game. It’s poorly paced, the plot is needlessly complex and the battle system is utterly ridiculous. So of course it got a sequel.
The new Final Fantasy (by which I mean anything from X onwards really) games all feel so… formulaic. For a start all of the characters all look virtually identical. I’m well aware that Square want to push their hardware to get as much out of as they can, but that doesn’t mean all their characters need to look like very Westernised Asians. Take a look at this image of the cast of Final Fantasy XIII;
First of all, three of them look almost identical. Second of all, most of them look like passive aggressive hipsters. Thirdly, they could probably all pass for characters in Final Fantasy X. Now let’s take a quick look at the cast of FFIX;
WOAH! Everyone is different and unique! That guy’s a knight! The Black Mage looks entirely different to everyone else! I don’t know who that red haired fellow is but he sure looks interesting! You see? Graphics and graphical direction aren’t the same thing.
Also, I really don’t like the tone the series is taking, and it can honestly be summed up in one word; guns. They were present in VII, acknowledged, and they fitted the tone of the game. There was a good juxtaposition of old and new technology. VIII had gunblades, so that didn’t really count. Then X-2 had Yuna wielding automatic pistols, and then XIII started handing out sub-machine guns to everyone! It just feels wrong. Final Fantasy should be just that: a fantasy game. You can’t have Moogles and Chocobos if people are going to start taking other people out with shotguns. I’m sorry, but that’s the rule.
Look, I’m not saying that you can’t enjoy the new Final Fantasy games. If you enjoy them, good for you. But the old games are in a different league. Sure, the graphics aren’t as good, there’s no voice work and the battle mechanics don’t have the same complexity, but that doesn’t prevent these games telling some of the most moving stories ever seen. If you’ve played any of the new Final Fantasy games, you owe it to yourself to play the older ones. Discover the joys of roaming round a world map. Immerse yourself in the wonderfully realised worlds. Get past the graphic limitations and enjoy a battle system that doesn’t take the first ten hours of a game to explain.
Final Fantasy games have come a long way. But that doesn’t mean we should forget where they came from.