Final Thoughts on Final Fantasy

Welcome back, friends!  It’s time to wrap up our incredibly long discussion on the Final Fantasy franchise.  We’ve seen the brand help Squaresoft become a true powerhouse in the gaming market, and we’ve seen the company keep to its original goals of innovation and responding to gamers.  Today, we close this article series by taking a look at the post-Final Fantasy XI games.

Sometimes, while the company’s innovation seemed to go against the the service to the fans that they’d be the first to say helped them get into the powerful position they now enjoy, but I think it’s fair to say that hardly anyone would disagree that, if nothing else, the series continues to show that they are willing to try new things.

After Final Fantasy XI, there were a slew of other titles before officially continuing the main, or numbered, series.  One, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, not only spawned a series of its own, but was the first time the franchise had been seen on a Nintendo-brand system in years.  The Crystal Chronicles series was never meant to really compete with the PlayStation titles, but it succeeded quite well at one important thing—getting back to the Nintendo gamers.

Numerous more titles came out, most of which were popular as one would expect from the Final Fantasy banner they were published under.  Really, everything was plugging along normally, as gamers had by then expected from Square-Enix.  What wasn’t expected was Final Fantasy XII.

It had one of the more difficult developmental periods of titles in the series thus far.  Development started in ‘Oh-One, and Hironobu Sakaguchi was originally going to be the executive producer, with  Yasumi Matsuno taking the role of director.  Aside from his instrumental role in Final Fantasy Tactics, Matsuno also was behind the incredibly popular Vagrant Story.  When Sakaguchi finally left the company, Matsuno took over the executive duties.  This let him create a story all his own.

In the final year of development, Matsuno had to step down from the project due to health issues, and Akitoshi Kawazu took over the role of producer, with Hiroyuki Itou and Hiroshi Minagawa filling in as co-directors.  Ultimately, the incredibly long development cycle and the shifting visions for the game would take its toll, but all of that wasn’t enough to keep the title from being received rather well.

After the famous tech demo for the PlayStation 3 and the incredible reaction of gamers to it, Square-Enix decided to focus on that very console, even though it wouldn’t be hitting shelves for quite a while yet.  To “tide gamers over”, as it were, they focused on what was doubtless the most popular title in the series, Final Fantasy VII, and released two titles tying into that setting—Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus and Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core.

The last title for the PlayStation 2 was as innovative of story as it was anything else.  Final Fantasy XII‘s story was heavily political, diving deeply into the age-old question of just what power “is”, and just what power costs.  It marked a few other changes to the series; the world was created more similarly to an M.M.O., with areas broken up into “zones” and random critters wandering around.  In fact, it felt more like a single-player version of an M.M.O., with a good few mindless fetch quests thrown in for good measure.

There was also a change with the airship—like most titles before it, the player was handed the reigns to an airship late in the game, but where previous titles let the player pilot it more or less wherever he or she wanted, here the player had “anchor points”.  Basically, the player ran to a an anchor point—which was, fittingly enough, where a giant anchor was embedded into the ground with a rope leading upward into the sky—and then the player got a menu.  He or she would choose where to go next, the screen would fade to black, and then the player found themself at another anchor point.

Still, the changes that made long-time fans of the brand scratch their heads aside, the game’s story was superb, it was easily one of the, if not the, best-looking titles the series had yet seen, and like most titles before it there were more side-quests and such to do than you could shake a stick at.  As such, and as ever, it came as a surprise to no one at all when it was received extremely well, and thus gave the PlayStation 2 a proper “send-off”, as it were.

Their first title for the next generation of consoles marked yet another series of changes for the brand.  For one thing, it wasn’t solely on a Sony-brand console, as the series had been ever since Final Fantasy VII.  Final Fantasy XIII also debuted on the X-Box 360, a move which surprised more than a few players, though that didn’t stop it from being well-received on either system.

The other primary departure from what had been done before is that it is strictly linear for the first portion of the game.  Strictly.  No running around, seeing what there is to see.  You ran and fought, ran and fought, and ran some more and fought some more.  It wasn’t for a good while—fifteen hours or so being around the low-average—that the game “opened up”.  Sequels are in the mix, as well as other games that tie into the world.  Like so many of its predecessors, for better or for worse, XIII did some things a little differently—and other things a lot differently.

The next and to date last in the numbered series, Final Fantasy XIV, is one that’s taken gamers by surprise—but not necessarily in a good way.  Take a gander at its reception—all but one response was “meh”, and the one that actually ranked it a little higher opens the review by saying that “it needs a lot of improvement”.  Metacritic aggregates it as “generally unfavorable“, which is a rather low point for the series in general.

After you create your character, you’re more or less tossed into the world with a hearty pat on the back and then left behind.  If you know what you’re doing, great.  If not, well, the tutorials are decidedly less than helpful, and the entire interface is decidedly less than intuitive.  On the other hand, as totally expected, it looks downright gorgeous.

Those just mentioned are primary the “main”, or numbered, entries in the series.  Taken as a whole, with every game under the “Final Fantasy” banner, well—you have dozens and dozens of games.  There’s one good reason for this—no matter what else, the games all challenge the developers and players alike.  Unlike nearly every other game franchise out there, the developers behind the Final Fantasy series continue to innovate every aspect of the brand, from game-play to music to visuals to story.  Nothing is left untouched, nothing is left as “good enough because it worked before”.

Today, if you held the games of the last few years to the games of the first few, newcomers would be surprised to know they really were the same franchise.  Taking the “nods” to the players out of the mix, the games are so different from one another, even ones in the same “sub-series”, that they almost become incomparable.

Many gamers don’t like the current trends in the franchise, particularly those who were there when the first game hit their consoles and had been there ever since.  Hopefully even those who fell out of love with the series will at least admit that Square-Enix is one of the few companies who treats its brand with the same mentality as it has for years—innovation ruling the day, no resting on their laurels.  Yes, some of us may not like this game or that game, or we may have stopped being a fan once a certain innovation became commonplace—but they still continue to innovate in the first place.  They don’t simply crank out more of the same, and how many other companies—of anything, not just video games—can say that?

As we’ve seen, the franchise has been around for a long time—it’s one of the longest-running franchises in gaming history.  It’s also been one that’s seen a lot of turmoil behind the scenes, as directorial control of individual games as well as the company as a whole changed hands again and again.  Yet the franchise has withstood all of that.  It’s proven itself to be worthy of the incredible devotion shown to it by its fans.

Some of the changes in its history have been head-scratching, others remarkably wonderful.  Some changes were helpful, others—not so much.  The series, like the company, isn’t fool-proof, nor is it anywhere close to perfect—but then no one’s ever claimed perfection.  All that’s ever really been claimed—the only thing anyone’s ever said the Final Fantasy brand really tries for—is to see what’s possible.  To see what can be done differently.  That’s a goal the series has rarely fallen too short of reaching.

No matter what will happen, what new innovations the series sees next, it’s almost doubtless that the franchise will continue.  the day that a Final Fantasy title will live up to that name is sure to be a long time from now, and it’s hard to think of another franchise more worthy of such a legacy.


2 Responses to “Final Thoughts on Final Fantasy

  1. Elisa Michelle Says:

    I think the Final Fantasy saga is a great one, filled with ups and downs that most gaming series never get to experience. That in itself is a treat.

    Personally, I loved Final Fantasy XIII. Then again, I’m apparently in a totally different generation of gamer from someone just five or, at most, ten years older than me. It’s amazing how fast technology has changed and improved. The graphics on the latest Final Fantasy games have been exquisite.

    I’m really happy I got to read this. It felt almost nostalgic in a way and I got to learn a lot more about a series I already adore. Can’t beat that, right?

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