Fireside Discussion: Chapter 6: The Last Hope of Final Fantasy
Ok it may be premature to say that Final Fantasy is on its way out financially but we can agree to varying degrees that the company that has brought millions the most popular RPG franchise in history is currently somewhat less radiant as of late and may be leaving our hearts as a destination for RPGs. Why is that? Today I begin a journey with you to give you some facts, opinion and speculation into why Squaresoft merged with Enix, Final Fantasy began a slide downhill and with it the hopes and dreams of many players, including myself. Remember back to the Forgotten City in FF7? Aeris is praying for “hope” and the white materia answered, will Square?
Fact: Squaresoft merged with Enix, and became Square-Enix, April 1, 2003. As a young gamer I didn’t care much that two of my favorite game companies came together but it is clear now that Square was struggling and that is in part due to the box office toll of Final Fantasy: Spirits Within; a movie that devastated the company. Final Fantasy X was the last franchise game in that series to be made by Squaresoft before the merge and in the eyes of many, the last great game! Since this time, though they have made “progress”, they have experienced low sales for Nier, White Knight Chronicles, harsh comments on FF13, the 14 blunder and their first direct sequel-gone-wrong, Final Fantasy X-2. Though this has been true, the company has released more games and spinoffs on other platforms to close the gap but ultimately fell way short, resulting in losses of over 100M.
Opinion:Many talk about the faults of game design and the cheesy voice acting or shallow character design as being the main reasons behind the decline of FF, whilst these are true and I share some of the same views, I think those only marginally impact the series as a whole. The bigger question is why?
First I want to pass a thought to all of you about why game satisfaction declines or changes over time, with a question? How many of you recently ate something you previously did not enjoy or stopped a particular activity you used to love doing? I bet most of us change our likes and dislikes often. For a franchise that has been around since I was 5, it isn’t a surprise to me that my tastes have changed. My point here is to show you that developers must use vigilance here and attempt to bring us entertainment at these stages in our gaming careers. 15 year old, maladjusted heroes with feminine characteristics isn’t cutting it anymore, I’m 30, give me something my age please!
This is the stem of my argument on the decline of Final Fantasy; time. In the beginning RPG’s were young in the eyes of gamers using a console to exercise their dominance and place in a fictional fantasy setting. Expectations were drawn in the 80s and at first hey weren’t that high. Final Fantasy was a good game but when I played it several years after its release, I did not expect it would blossom into what it is today.
The Final Fantasy timeline is an interesting and confusing topic. What do the naming conventions mean? Why did 2 and 3 never get released in the US for years? Though similar, so many of them are drastically different from one another not only in combat, but music, art style and story. Popularity grew until Final Fantasy 12, when most speculate they “ruined” their momentum on the RPG market and marred the reputation of the franchise only to be devastated by harsh remarks, from 13 and corporate backlash with the release of 14, their 2nd MMO, gone bad!
While it is clear to say, as an example, Final Fantasy 14 had obvious design flaws and game play mechanics that were as ancient and mystical as the nuanced worlds they depict, this still isn’t the reason Final Fantasy is suffering. It is the hearts and minds of loyal fans that is changing and the compounding “ill-placed game design” choices are driving the wedge further.
It is also apparent that the game design decisions are floating awkwardly between the well seeded eastern expectations and the fluid, raw views of westerners demanding strong, impactful visuals.
You also have to look at the success of WRPG’s. The Baldur’s Gate, Oblivion, Neverwinter, Dark Souls etc. To an older more mature crowd these hold more value in most cases and are effectively stealing playtime from Final Fantasy as players are becoming more detached and disinterested in SquareEnix’s machinations of grandeur and fantasy and ultimately JRPG’s.
Speculation:Some have said S.E. is placing it’s eggs in the MMO basket and buckling down for a re-release of 14. While it is true they are planning to unveil the “ugly duckling” again, it’s hard to say one way or another if SquareEnix is going to depend on a previous failure to reach the hearts of lost souls (us), but it isn’t out of the question. MMO’s carry an inherent toxin about them that permeates normal gaming behavior and almost infects our time, friends, lifestyle and satisfaction at a primal level with an insatiable desire to become powerful.
Despite rumors floating around about 14, it is also fact that they plan to release many games from various successful IPs, but what will the next Final Fantasy be, what system is it being designed for and will a next generation system and legendary game design birth a fire in us we once felt for Final Fantasy 6, 7, 10 & Tactics? Nothing can save the series but itself and redemption in this area would all but erase past transgressions by Zidane’s character design and Tidus’ horrifyingly annoying voice acting for most of us.
As stated above on game design choices between two very different audiences: can developers find a common ground? Is anything being done to make a new IP for each audience or find a combination of mechanics/art style to win all of us over? Time will tell, but you look at their new Luminous Engine and it makes you wonder… what do they have planned for that?
In closing and as a recap, it’s apparent the beloved franchise has fell. In part to our nature and expectation as gamers, the current competition and age appropriate content as well as the design flaws with an ever changing timeline and combat system. For these reasons combined, SquareEnix faces a tough obstacle; to rekindle the “bonfire” so to speak for you Dark Souls fans. Ifrit save us! and please god, no more “vehicular gnomeslaughter” of our eidolons, summons or guardian forces por favor! It’s just plain silly.