Yet More Thoughts on Final Fantasy

Last time, we continued the discussion about the Final Fantasy series and the effect it had on us.  We paused in the saga as Sakaguchi had been about to make the mistake that almost cost him his career in game-making as a whole, and “only” cost him the respect of his fans as well as his position at the company he’d helped make into a financial juggernaut.

We are, of course, talking about Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (which we’ll discuss in-depth at another time).  I’d ranked it number two on my Tuesday Top Ten list of movies based on video games, and I did so knowing I was in the minority.  This isn’t anecdotal, based on forum posts at the time, or anything else.

Now, keep in mind Spirits Within opened way back in ‘Oh-One.  That’s ten years ago.  To this day it hasn’t recouped its budget.  Look at the lifetime gross (gross is before everyone involved takes their cut of the profit; everyone from the studio to the theaters and everyone in the middle has their hands out when a movie gets to theaters)—about two-thirds the production budget.  Then add in that no matter how you slice it, it received a universally “meh” reaction.  Financially, it did terrible in the theaters, worse on D.V.D. rentals/purchases—and nearly ruined Hironobu Sakaguchi completely.

The one thing that saved him—Final Fantasy X.  Released shortly after Spirits Within to stellar reviews, it proved that the company was in no danger, even if Sakaguchi was.

You see, he had very little to do with Final Fantasy X, as most of his time then was taken up with Spirits Within.  What happened behind-the-scenes, we can only speculate, but it seems clear that someone realized they didn’t need Sakaguchi to make a Final Fantasy title that would sell well.  Again, we can only speculate as to what went on in the board meetings at Squaresoft and Sony, but whatever happened, whatever was said, Sakaguchi retired from Squaresoft in ‘Oh-Four.  Compounding his decision, certainly, was that Squaresoft had merged with Enix Corporation to form Square-Enix.

Some accounts say his role was quickly diminishing in the company ever since Spirits Within bombed, that he was being edged out of the company he’d helped to form.  It’s almost doubtless, given the timing, that the merger was the last straw.  He left so quickly after it, it hardly seems that it could have been anything else but that “final push”, as it were.  Eventually, he would help found Mistwalker Corporation later that year, and since then the company has put out a rather impressive list of games.

One burden was lifted from Square-Enix when Sakaguchi left—they could merchandise the Final Fantasy brand however they wanted, and they could create direct sequels if they wanted—so they did both.  Potions still hit the market every few years (amongst an abundance of other merchandise), though by all accounts they don’t taste like anything you’d want to actually put in your mouth, and starting with Final Fantasy X-2 they’re creating sequels to anything they can think of; the number of sequels and prequels to Final Fantasy VII is almost staggering (though there’s that one unlicensed “demake” that’s highly amusing in concept).

This isn’t to say that merchandising is bad.  Any company that merchandises its brand means it can turn some of the profit into making more of whatever got that company famous in the first place.  In this case, purchasing potion bottles and key chains and figurines and so on gives the company money to keep putting out video games, which is what we ultimately want in the first place.

Anyway, as mentioned before, not long before Sakaguchi left Squaresoft, the company announced a move that to this day has some fans muttering and shaking their fist—they merged with Enix Corporation to become Square-Enix.  The fans who felt the impact of this the most were the fans of the Dragon Quest series, as it has been argued that the company’s focus has shifted away from that brand to focus on Final Fantasy.  Comparing the lists of games put out for each series, it’s hard to disagree, even though we can’t really know for sure what goes on in the board rooms and such.

Further compounding this is that there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of a focus on merchandising, either; the largest collection that most hunters would come across is just bits and pieces as part of a general video game/anime merchandise site.

For better or for worse, the departure of Hironobu Sakaguchi was felt by fans everywhere, as he took his vision and sensibilities with him when he left, and Square-Enix would grow in a completely different direction.  It’s hard, even as a long-time fan of Final Fantasy, to say that it’s “wrong” or “bad”.  He had one vision, the company is operating under another.  Neither are really “bad”, especially when you realize that everything Square-Enix does can still turn to gold.  A lot of the reason for that, however, is in just what the new “vision” is.

Where Sakaguchi’s was innovation and, above all else, storytelling, Yoshinori Kitase seems to be more about what the fans specifically will like.  Is that a bad thing?  Of course not.  It’s just different, and while younger gamers may not feel that difference or think much of it, it’s one older gamers may still have a hard time reconciling.

Today we’ve covered the fall of Sakaguchi, discussing the specific events that led to his departure.  Join us tomorrow when we jump back further in time to look at the games that led him to want to try making a movie in the first place.  See you tomorrow!


7 Responses to “Yet More Thoughts on Final Fantasy

  1. […] the rest here: Yet More Thoughts on Final Fantasy « Retro-Ish Gaming Critic This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged almost-cost, career, continued-the-discussion, […]

  2. Elisa Michelle Says:

    I have to admit, I don’t really notice a difference, mostly because I came in on the Final Fantasy series at Final Fantasy X and only heard of Sakaguchi briefly because of The Spirits Within (which I thought was a great movie, but I was 10 when it came out, so…). As usual, I love this look into my favorite series of games. You’re segments are very clear but filled with concise information. I like it!

    • I still think Spirits Within is a great movie, myself. I just think it was partly a little ahead of its time, and partly not really aimed at the right audience. Movie-watchers don’t often share the same tastes as game-players, after all, and Spirits Within had I think a “depth” that wasn’t too common in movies, but was nearly commonplace in many video games.

      And again, thank you much for the kind words. They’re definitely appreciated and are what make all of this worth it.

      • Elisa Michelle Says:

        Yeah, it was definitely a little too ahead of its time. If it’d come around a few years later it might’ve done better. Maybe. I had no idea it did so poorly though since I literally adored it (and own it and love it and pet it and… wait. You didn’t read that, m’kay?).

        Part of the reason I loved Final Fantasy X was the depth. It gave me something to care about when I was a teen (ah, so much angst).

      • I adore the film as well, and though I always knew it wasn’t the most popular film, it wasn’t until a little before researching the franchise for this series that I realized just how poorly it did.

        I’ll admit I wasn’t too fond of Final Fantasy X, but that’s more because of the mechanics and pacing. I liked the story itself, by and large.

  3. Elisa Michelle Says:

    Being a writer, and being around 12 at the time I bought it, Final Fantasy X’s story impacted me so much I wrote fanfic about it. That fanfic was one of my first 40+ page story, and from there I realized I wanted to be a fantasy novelist. So yeah, the gameplay and controls definitely weren’t the best, but Final Fantasy has been one of the few series of games that actually makes me passionate about what happens to the characters. In fact, if they made (or at least mos) of them into movies I’d be very happy, haha.

  4. So would a lot of gamers, let me tell you, heh.

    While I never really delved into fiction-writing, the Final Fantasy series is what got me invested in character development, in seeing a character through good times and bad. In a way, it helped me become more of a critical thinker, which is what in a way led to this blog, so I can sympathize, if not somewhat relate.

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