The Final Fantasy franchise is currently stuck, flailing like a pelican in an oil spill. It’s always ready to take off, occasionally getting airborne, yet constantly plummeting back into the black mess of the ocean. It’s not that the games are now bad, it’s just they haven’t been anywhere near as good as they used to be. That isn’t nostalgia talking, that’s from a ton of loyal fans. Hell, Yoichi Wada himself has said that Final Fantasy, as a brand, has been greatly damaged. So let’s just get down to the nitty-gritty of it: it’s time for a Final Final Fantasy.
The finale of LOST’s third season introduced the idea of flashforwards, where the audience played witness to the survivor’s futures once they got off the island and returned to the mainland. In the season’s closing scene, Jack Shephard, face full of beard, screams at his love interest Kate Austen “WE HAVE TO GO BACK! WE HAVE TO GO BACK!” Jack feels that his life in the real world has fallen apart since the survivors returned and so he urges Kate to come back with him. Kate disagrees and drives off into the darkness as Jack screams at her yet again.
“WE HAVE TO GO BACK!”
It’s a scene that I imagine plays out whenever Yoichi Wada goes to visit one of his former employees, Hironobu Sakaguchi (‘The Sak,’ or more affectionately ‘The Gooch’), upon the lovely shores of Honolulu. Yoichi, his flagship series drawing scorn from half of its fanbase and a failed MMO launch fresh in his mind, just wants to go back to a time when things were easier and success was damn near guaranteed. Yoichi misses the island of money that was pouring in. The Sak (the Kate Austen of our tale) listens to Yoichi’s pleas but, having founded the relatively successful Mistwalker development studio in Hawaiiand who have pumped out a number of quality RPG’s, doesn’t bat an eyelid. “WE HAVE TO BACK! WE HAVE TO GO BACK!” Yoichi cries. The Sak shakes his head in disagreement, his moustache swaying in the cool Hawaiian breeze. He surfs off into the sunset.
“WE HAVE TO GO BACK!”
When Square Enix released Final Fantasy XIV to the public, Webster’s Dictionary officially halted their printing press as the definition of “wide-scale shitstorm” was rewritten. The launch was an unmitigated disaster. I like to think of the game as a burger from a fast food chain. There is so much promise in that burger when you first see it, glistening like it does on the posters or in the menu. When it comes to you, it’s packaged in a neat little box, but when you open the box, the contents are a mess. There’s sauce all up the inside which leaves a film of disgust on your fingertips. There’s a single piece of lettuce that covers a third of the patty. The patty is sweaty. The tomato is literally dripping grease, which is, if you weren’t aware, almost impossible for a tomato to do. It’s nothing like you expected, it’s nothing like you were originally promised. To make sure it actually tastes like food, a whole lot of things that aren’t natural are added. It only ever tastes okay at best. At worst, it’s inedible.
That’s Final Fantasy XIV
It was so bad, that a smaller development company would have had to shut-up shop. But Square Enix decided it was in their best interest to try and keep XIV afloat, even though the user base had been completely alienated. A lot of chocobo blood (chocoblood; you can have that one Yoichi Wada) has been spilt to make that burger look and taste exactly like you expect. The director of the project, at first, “stepped down” then later left Square Enix entirely and the development team underwent major changes. In many ways, it was like an actual Final Fantasy party being switched out. Not at a high enough level to complete the goal? Well, here’s a bunch of guys that can. Not only was Square Enix hurt on the inside, but the outside as well. If you held a cup to their neck, you’d find hundred dollar bills billowing out. See that? That’s an analogy for bleeding money from a major artery.
You can clean the oil off of a pelican; it’s relatively easy. All you need is a bucket, some water and a hell of a lot of Dawn detergent. Square Enix have begun this process in earnest, taking their gloved hands and trying to rebuild XIV from the ground-up. If they ever got around to releasing Versus XIII (and it didn’t stink of a game stuck in development hell for years), or the behemoth in the room Final Fantasy VII, then perhaps Final Fantasy stands a chance. Unfortunately, the effects of an oil spill last a lot longer than that. Some pelicans, attempting to clean themselves, ingest the oil causing severe respiratory problems. There’s no coming back from that. As a long time fan of Final Fantasy, it pains me to say that this respiratory system is far too full of oil to recover. It’s time to humanely kill it off rather than let it cruelly asphyxiate.
That isn’t to say Final Fantasy should be forgotten. If anything, it should be remembered for what it was at its peak. Square Enix would port the classic games in the series to a graphics calculator if they thought there was a market there. The recent backing of Ouya is evidence of that. It’s evidence that we cannot kill Final Fantasy. We can drain all its hit points but we can’t stop Square Enix from going to their cache of Phoenix Down’s and trying to revive the series whenever they think it necessary. I just don’t understand why. If the brand is greatly damaged, doesn’t it make more sense to start fresh (Answer: Yes)?
Square Enix do not understand this. The trailer for their new Luminous engine is a gorgeous and enthralling four minutes of flawless character models and fantasy violence. Named “Agni’s Philosophy,” it shows a mage girl (though the sex is always a question mark) running from a bunch of guys (again, questionable) with machine guns. There are echidna-dogs, a dragon made of fireworks and brief images of the merchant from the beginning of Aladdin who’s aged a few years. Instead of potentially stimulating some form of hype for a new IP, Square decided to slap the Final Fantasy tag to Agni’s Philosophy*. I can’t argue with that though, it had to be done. The trailer is so unapologetically Final Fantasy that you almost expected the credits to roll with a FINAL FANTASY XV: COMING SOON screen. That’s the problem. You can tell that the name has become a ball and chain cuffed to the ankle of every Square Enix employee that files through their glass doors. If you have to work on a tech demo for a Final Fantasy game, you go to dragons and mages and echidna dogs and magic.
Final Fantasy doesn’t need to be killed just for the sake of Square’s fans or because it is irreversibly damaged. It needs to be killed because it is limiting the potential of the people that work in Square’s offices too. It’s making it harder for the guys there to fill the crater left by The Sak’s departure and all that wonderful game-making knowledge that he imparted on his teams. Agni’s Philosophy is the best example of that.
Making a Final Fantasy game means going to the same well, one filled with all manner of beast and creating from a simple blueprint, another RPG. Your fans have moved on. They’ve grown up. So have your staff members. Move on, Square Enix, throw the rule book at the god-damn wall. Get this “Lightning Saga” out of your system, spit out Versus and end the Frankenstein’s monster that is XIV. Re-focus and put your time into new IPs. Reimagine old ones. Show us that you still know how to make us fall in love with your video games
You’re going to have to trust me on this. The SS Square Enix will sail just fine without Final Fantasy.
*if you think about it, this only makes sense if this trailer will form the basis of their next Final Fantasy game [XV], otherwise there is legitimately nothing to gain from adding that name to the trailer. Their recent fan survey about the trailer indicates that they are gauging interest about Agni’s Philosophy as a potential Final Fantasy title. Expect news on it in 2013.