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.