Over the past few years, I’ve grown into a love-hate relationship with Final Fantasy. You see, I loved Final Fantasy. It could do no wrong in my book. I jumped on board the train with FF2 for SNES and didn’t get off until it derailed around FFXI. The RPG has always been my kind of videogame because it had lots of different ways to waste time. You could progress in the main story, level up your characters, look for some loot, play around with some sidequests… If you got bored with one thing, you could do another until you were ready to move on. They also had actual characters and (what passes for) stories, which lead for a lot of emotional investment. My online alias still comes from a Final Fantasy game, for fuck’s sake.
Somewhere along the line, that love wavered a bit. There’s several reasons, personal and subjective, as to why this is. Final Fantasy isn’t what it was back when I first started playing it, for good and for bad. Things naturally change and evolve over time, and there’s still a lot that harkens back to that past, but the games have changed quiet a bit. I’m usually OK with videogames changing, a great case being the 3D Bionic Commando. Despite its flaws (and it has quite a few), there hasn’t been anything quite like it before, and probably not again in the future for a long time.
I played FFIV:After Years and enjoyed it, for the most part. FFIV DS was a superb remake that gave me a new challenge even though I’ve played the original a million times. FFIII DS exposed me to a game I had only heard about on the internet. All of these experiences still show that Final Fantasy, at its core, still interests me. I still enjoy the basic gameplay, the worlds, so on. It’s still interesting that I haven’t beaten a “new” mainline Final Fantasy, though. I never bought FFXII. Final Fantasy XI, by virtue of its nature, is not completable, but I did sink an assload of time into it. I got to a fairly high level of play, so I guess I could say I accomplished a lot. I at least finished the original game’s final quest, but expansions means it never ends.
Now, Final Fantasy XIII is on its way and my interest is piqued. I wasn’t interested in FFXII’s pseudo-XI style of battle gameplay (if I wanted to play that, why wouldn’t I just play XI in the first place?) and the characters didn’t seem to interest me much. I felt safe skipping it after it had been mostly panned. Of course, that game is a gigantic case of coulda-woulda-shoulda, given that its producer was sacked partway through the development process. Perhaps if I got to play the true vision of that producer, I might change my mind about the game. Nevertheless, the initial screengrabs and character descriptions in XIII made me look at it a little closer – and I realized that I may actually purchase and enjoy the game. Shocking, huh?
When I first heard about FFXIII a few years ago, I dismissed it as some aimless attempt at revenue generation. The multiple variations/split games turned me off. Why make a bunch of crappy games when you could make one good one? As it turns out, I might be mistaken. I’m not going to judge the game until I play it and give a go at its actual gameplay and story. The transforming rideable summons seems gimmicky, but it’s not the only part of the game, so I can forgive it. There’s something inside me that says “Final Fantasy, man. FINAL FANTASY!” Plus, it’s the first true mainline Final Fantasy on the newer consoles, and I’d like to see what they can use all that computing power for.
Back to the point at hand – what caused me to drift from Final Fantasy in the first place? There’s a few reasons.
The same guys aren’t working on it anymore – Sakaguchi, Amano, Uematsu, they’re all pretty much done with the mainline series (and Sakaguchi is gone from Square completely). This is one of those inevitable things that time does, and I don’t hold it against any of those guys. They gave me tons of great memories and their original games are still fun. Nevertheless, what passes as “Final Fantasy” is radically different than back then simply because it’s been handed on to a new generation. New people with new ideas try to build upon the existing base to keep it from getting stale. Unfortunately, you risk alienating guys like me who value the original play and style that they bought into all those years ago.
Tetsuya Nomura – tangentially related to the last point, Nomura’s designs just don’t strike me as much as Amano’s did. While FF7 doesn’t resemble much of Nomura’s more recent work, Advent Children should show that he would totally go in his more modern direction on that game if he did it over today. I’m sure he’d keep leathermakers in business, though.
They fucked too much with the gameplay – At its core, the FF4-6 gameplay is what I love so much. Later games have stripped out a lot of customizability in terms of armors, for instance, for things like status attributes. When I play a Final Fantasy game, I have expectations, rightly or wrongly, of how it should play. If I wanted something radically different, I would play some other RPG. Instead of improving the existing framework of mechanics, it was rearranged to something that only vaguely resembled Final Fantasy. Looking at FFXIII, it actually seems to be something that was defined by more traditional gameplay and modified with new ideas as opposed to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Uninteresting androgynous characters – we need more Edgars and Cyans and less Vaans. Nuff said.
I’m not quite sure what FFXIII can do to win me back, other than being a solid, good game. I’m not the kid who can waste all of his afterschool/weekend time grinding away on a game anymore. As long as I can stay interested (read: good characters and story that compel me to play the game), I’m willing to give the game a chance.