The Downfall of Final Fantasy?

First of all, I’m happy to announce that I am now a member of the team of writers over at Norwich Retro Gaming! My first post was a small piece on a new Pokemon typing game for the Nintendo DS, but I’ll be doing a weekly feature about all the great games that are out there that no one’s ever heard of! (ok, I’ve heard of them, but more people should be playing them!) You can check out my Pokemon typing post  here
Now, this post has really been a long time coming, that’s for sure. I’ve been involved in discussions on forums debating the pros and cons of the Final Fantasy series, what defines the series, all of that. Because Final Fantasy is so dear to my heart as the series that got me into gaming, I’m going tell you all what I think about the franchise, what makes the games good, and why I can’t bring myself to finish Final Fantasy XIII.
I’ll have to begin with a disclaimer–I have only played Final Fantasy VII through XIII. Though I have seen VI played and dabbled in the DS port of IV, I feel that I don’t have the authority to really talk about the older installments in the series. This may turn some people off, claiming that I’m not a “true” Final Fantasy fan, but I don’t think how many games you’ve played or which is your favorite has any basis in whether or not you can call yourself a fan of the series (mine’s IX, if you were wondering, but that’s for another post).
Cloud from FFVII
Final Fantasy is undeniably the most popular Japanese RPG (role playing game) series worldwide. While Dragon Quest may have more notoriety back in its home country, it’s Final Fantasy (hereafter referred to as FF) that sells consoles and makes the news. Most gamers have probably played at least one Final Fantasy game, or know enough about the franchise to recognize iconic names such as “Cloud” or “chocobo.” Final Fantasy VII marked a revolution in the series and was the first game to utilize full 3D graphics in its cutscenes, and is still regarded as one of the best by many fans. It was this game, in fact, that turned me on to the series and opened my eyes to the world of gaming.
So what makes these games different from other Japanese RPGs? First, I have to talk about the graphics. From FFVII on, Final Fantasy games set the bar for high-quality game graphics, with each new installment looking prettier than the last. FFX was the first game to feature fully-rendered lip movements on its characters, and XIII went even further to introduce lifelike eye movements to the world of gaming. The environments are detailed and immersive, and both Yoshitaka Amano and Tetsuya Nomura’s art direction has created some unique and memorable characters over the years.
One of the most well-remembered cutscenes from FFVIII
Though for the most part each FF game is in separate world with new characters and story from other installments, each title can be linked to one another through familiar enemies, items, and even characters. Chocobos and moogles are perhaps the most iconic recurring creatures in the series. In practically every FF game there is a character named Cid, as well (though this doesn’t mean the Cids have anything to do with one another). The battle system may be revamped and tweaked, but generally there are core elements, such as magic and summoning, that remain very similar. I could go on and on, but for the purposes of this article I’m going to have to stop here. 
An illustration by Yoshitaka Amano of Zidane and Dagger from FFIX (source)
So, you’re probably still wondering why I haven’t played much of FFXII if I’m such a self-proclaimed Final Fantasy lover. Well, the first thing that struck me about FFXII was the lack of towns. I actually never realized how much I loved exploring and talking to NPCs until Square Enix decided to eliminate that element altogether. Sure, there are cutscenes and dialogue, but when the player is in control it is a constant hack-and-slash fest until the end of the area and the next cutscene. Then it’s just rinse and repeat until about 20 hours into the game where it finally opens up and provides you with an area to explore, complete with a few sidequests (this is what I’ve heard, I never even got this far). I’m sorry, but I just don’t have the time or interest to invest 20 hours into a game before it lets me do any exploring. I could talk about my relative distaste for the characters in XIII, or even how I’m not sold on the fast-paced “can’t-believe-it’s-not-real-time” battles, but it’s really the lack of exploration that made me put the game down for good. 
FFXII is undeniably pretty, but does it have substance?
Where is the series going from here? I think it’s clear from Square Enix’s public statements that they’re taking hints from popular Western RPGs and trying to tweak their image into something that just doesn’t match up with the Final Fantasy so close to my heart. They’re moving away from open-ended exploration to fast-paced linearity, and while FFXIII was received with mixed reviews, it clearly garnered them enough sales to do a direct sequel–something that has only happened one other time in Final Fantasy history. With all of their various spin-offs (think FFVII: Crisis Core for the PSP, FFXII: Revenant Wings for the DS, and many others), Final Fantasy is becoming a big franchise that is trying to cater to more and more different kinds of gamers–but is it at the cost of their existing fanbase? If anyone else shares my opinion, then I’d say yes. 
But enough about me–what do you think? Loved FFXIII and think I’m full of it? Have a soft spot for FFIII? Let me know in the comments! 

About Anne Lee

Also known as apricotsushi. Anne can be written with the kanji for apricot (杏), and sushi was the most quintessentially Japanese thing I could think of when I was 13, resulting in my goofy, albeit memorable, nickname.

  • Hi there – very interesting post, albeit a topic already thoroughly discussed. My favourite one in the series so far is FFVII – great programme music, immersive, non-linear environments, memorable characters, not to mention making a chapter in the series worthy of the perfection challenge for a true cause (the Weapons of course). You already know my favourite facet of the game is the replay value; seeing little subtleties and cute nuances in the game that give it a sense of quasi-realism. There are a plethora of secret goodies and nifty tricks that make this game – to me – sophisticated and sassy. I love the abundance of side quests and mini-games, appreciate the versatility of the Materia system, and truly believe the opening sequence is epic like no other. Having said that, there are several ‘bugs’ that allow exploitation of the game, some gaps in the story (although a seriously thorough player, having seen some of the ‘hidden’ sequences, might be able to piece the puzzle together, so to speak), and as one may reasonably deem, too many Materia for all practical purposes.

    But that’s just what I think. 🙂

  • Hi there,

    As you’ve already seen on my own website, I think the Final Fantasy series is in good shape – I enjoyed XIII, and am greatly looking forward to XIII-2.

    It’s a pity that the game was so controversial, because look past the “Final Fantasy expectations”, XIII is a good, fun JRPG.

    Just my two cents 🙂

  • @GamesAndBiz

    I agree that XIII has its strong points, but it’s too bad that it has the Final Fantasy label attached to it (at least for me). I hope that Square Enix does some sort of return to its roots in the future. I’ll probably try to finish XIII eventually, though (it is gorgeous!!)

  • @Shaun I know you love VII! I like that you describe it as “sophisticated and sassy” 😛

  • Well, I can’t say anything about XIII, as I’ve never played it, but in general I definitely think the FF series is on the decline. Like you, one of the things I like most about FF games is the exploration. Thankfully, the folks at SE seem to remember this when they make FF spin-offs and other RPGs, but not when they make their mainline FF games these days. Hopefully they’ll go back in that direction eventually.

    BTW, you really should try the original versions of FF IV, V and VI (or the GBA remakes) if you’re OK with 2D, sprite-based games. They’re may favorites in the series, without question 🙂

  • Thanks for the suggestions, Bryan! I’ve seen my husband play almost all of VI, and I’ve played a bit of the DS remake of III, I believe… I do own IV, V, and VI on those Playstation anthologies they made a while back, so maybe I’ll pick up IV or V! Out of those two, do you have a preference?