Final Fantasy 30th Anniversary: In Defence of Final Fantasy

By Thom Compton 28.12.2017 2

Once upon a time (specifically 1998), a young redheaded boy was given a copy of Final Fantasy VII for his 10th birthday. That little boy, having mostly played racing and platformer games up until then, almost immediately fell in love, it being the first game in the series he'd ever played. Over the years, he played VIII, IX, and X, as soon as possible. Then, in high school, a funny thing happened. He just stopped playing video games, until at the age of 18, when he picked up Final Fantasy XII at a Blockbuster Video store. The PS2 whirred as it read the disk, fingers tightly wrapped around the controller. Then it happened. It was terrible. The License Board, the combat, Vaan! It was enough to make blood boil (he may have been overreacting). It wouldn't be until after playing XIII and XIII-2 that it occurred to him. It wasn't a bad game. It was just the next logical step.

Final Fantasy has long been a series not content to sit still. While earlier titles took smaller, though no less important, strides, as the series went on, so did the massive gameplay jumps. Imagine (many of you won't have to) the shock of the Materia system when someone went from VI to VII. The jump from sprites to 3D figures, and overwhelming world maps.

The first game was important, but not something that would personally be called "fun." Each iteration since has found new and surprising ways to build upon the gameplay. Imagine a job being so important, that when the main character changes it, as a story point, it causes players to flip their chairs and run up to strangers on the street, shouting the good word of Final Fantasy (they may be overreacting). Imagine finding out that in order to accrue magic, you have to find special portals that it can draw from. Imagine spending years getting used to characters each having a job, only to find that in newer titles, jobs are largely pointless. Instead, the player can assign each character whatever magic they want, and only things like "Limit Breaks" hold onto these vocational skills in any way.

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Final Fantasy honestly has the opposite problem many other series have. Let's look at another long running franchise: Silent Hill. This survival horror has tried, and it's come close to originality a couple of times. Sadly, the number one problem players have with the series is it never changes. Creepy hallway, weird innuendo monster, really creepy main bad guy. Over and over and over and over, and aghhhhh! If you'd prefer an RPG example, we have the newest Star Ocean. While these games make some changes, they never feel all that different to the last title.

Final Fantasy, on the other hand, has a bad tendency to change too much. However, there is something commendable about this. Let's look at a newer title: Final Fantasy XV. It opens up with you and your friends pushing a car on the side of the road. This car is leaps and bounds different from the days of VIII, but it's a more logical way to evolve, turning the car into a place where you can get to know the other characters, instead of a weird rectangular tube that pushes you around the map.

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FFXV is also the most logical jump in world building. To put it mildly, XIII may not have been the best example of it. Sure, the world was nice, but the linear hallway you traversed felt like an exhaustively long version of the first trip through Midgar, though with less to look at. How did they right the ship, then? Make the world feel monumental and alive. Sure, back in the 8-bit days, it was exciting watching a pixelated thumbnail of your character walk around, appearing to be the size of every town they were supposed to be visiting. And, of course, walking around the green and brown carpeting that surrounds Kalm was fun. Now, however, the whole thing feels alive and real. This isn't just about looking prettier; it's about making everything feel alive. Roads are chiselled into the mountain side with care. Gas stations feel genuine.

This isn't to say that the past isn't still valid. My favourite, Final Fantasy IX, is still a gorgeous collection of smart storytelling and deeply loveable characters. Final Fantasy VI has some of the best story beats in the entire series. Oh, speaking of storytelling, I hear you loud and clear. While storytelling isn't the newer games' finest points (understatement much?), the character building is still strong. Sure, it loses its way from time to time, but that's inevitable - and, honestly, the earliest hints of these convoluted storylines began creeping up in Final Fantasy VIII.

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This is to say that the newer games will likely never make you feel the way that the older games did - and that's fine! Remember your first Final Fantasy? Remember your favourite? That's how Final Fantasy XV feels to someone else. The fact is, that elation, those doe eyes you gave Cecil, or Bartz, or even Kefka, can't be replicated, and that's the best thing of all. When the SNES fired up, or the PS1's green power light turned on, you had no idea what was about happen. Now, it's expected, and no amount of expectation can possibly match what you have in your mind.

The best way to enjoy any experience is to let it consume you. Final Fantasy is more anthology than linear narrative, and for that, it's going to miss beats every time it comes out with a new one, and fail to consume. However, every single title that is "the best," has glaring flaws throughout. Continuity errors and awful dialogue pepper Final Fantasy VII. Final Fantasy X is a glorified soap opera, and the side quests are largely below par. However, both of these games are fantastic in their own rights.

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"So, then, why keep calling them "Final Fantasy," huh? Why not call them each something wildly different?" Because they are each still a Final Fantasy game when the final shoe drops. Sure, there are superficial things, like chocobos and moogles. However, there's also a feeling. A grand adventure, a protagonist who likely uses too much hair gel, a love story, and, most important, stopping something massive and terrifying from destroying the world. Yes, this could be used to explain pretty much every other RPG, but there's something Final Fantasy does that separates it from every other title in its genre. If someone was playing a game and you walked in in the middle, you'd likely instantly know it's a Final Fantasy title. This is because every one of them feels so incredibly unique amongst its peers for its worlds, for its combat, and for its visuals.

As soon as the series started separating itself from turn-based combat, it became clear that newer titles would feel like a more dramatic jump in gameplay. However, thanks to the gradual introduction, even a title like Final Fantasy XV manages to feel like a new take on the old formula. Think about the combat in Final Fantasy X versus X-2. Just moving to a sequel, the gameplay became quick and frantic, but still largely strategic and thoughtful. That's literally how every title since then has evolved (disclaimer: having not played the MMOs, I'm purposelessly leaving those out). Now, players have the option between real-time combat and turn-based combat, which is a fantastic way to get players to try new things.

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This isn't me telling you the way you feel is wrong (thinking mighty highly of himself, huh?). Instead, it's just a plea to look at the series' evolution as not a slight against the player, but Square attempting to evolve to find new and exciting ways to integrate the franchise's long history with modern tropes. If they simply continued to pump out small variations on combat and exploration, the series would eventually grow too tedious to be fun anymore, and, honestly, that sounds sad more than anything.

Let's leave on this note, then. There's nothing wrong with getting upset because the newest title doesn't match the operatic highs and lows of your favourite entry. If each of them did, it wouldn't be your favourite. Because each title changes things up so dramatically, yet still holds the thematic tropes those before it set, it allows the series to appeal to new fans. Are they trying to push out the old fans, or even ignore them? I would say that's a big no. They're simply trying to keep things fresh and enjoyable - even 30 years later.

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I'm not sure they are trying to be fresh so much as cash in on current trends, you can see this in 12 which clearly ripped off WoW (then very popular), then you had 13 with the 'u-go-girl' attitude gaining traction in the gaming community.

Dragon0085 said:
I'm not sure they are trying to be fresh so much as cash in on current trends, you can see this in 12 which clearly ripped off WoW (then very popular), then you had 13 with the 'u-go-girl' attitude gaining traction in the gaming community.

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                                -Farnham

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