It’s terrifying to think that I’m only 2 years older than the Final Fantasy franchise that turned 25 recently. I’ll let you guys do the math on that one. 25 years is a long time in video games and it’s hard to think of what gaming would be without Final Fantasy. Like The Simpsons and Johnny Carson they’ve seen copycats and competitors come and go and they’ve buried them all, and even survived several class action lawsuits for falsely advertising that this was the FINAL fantasy. However the old grey mare she ain’t what she used to be and Final Fantasy hasn’t wowed people like it did in the past. Like all Japanese developers these days they are suffering from an identity crisis while trying to achieve Call of Duty’s sales numbers. A foolish endeavor indeed but they follow the money. Final Fantasy 13 was met with alarmingly mixed reviews and 14 the MMO was released way before it was finished resulting in disaster and soon to be a relaunch of a more complete game. I’d hate to see Final Fantasy go the way of Megaman and Wild Arms so here’s my advice. Now you may ask what good my advice is since I’m just a minimum wage nobody on the internet and they are a bunch of buffoons in suits running a multi-million dollar company, but judging by their recent decisions I feel confident that my opinion has more merit.
1: No more J-pop
Final Fantasy is more popular in Japan than anywhere else. So it makes sense that the games as of the last decade have reflected Japanese popular culture. It was subtle at first but has gradually become more focused. Final Fantasy X-2’s actual in game Idol concert was a big red flag and it only got crazier from there. In a way that was slightly appealing to me and the other dorks in America but there is no denying that it is alienating to people outside of Japan. Long time fans are on board for Squares games for multiple reasons other than just the aesthetic of the games. People unfamiliar to the franchise may not be so intrigued thus narrowing the market and lowering sales numbers. In my opinion their solution should be to be more “Fantasy” and by that I mean medieval looking. The old days of Final Fantasy had a beautiful mysticism look to it, like an Opera house or historical story book. At least most did, Final Fantasy 7 is still the most popular and that was more steampunk or industrial looking. Most importantly they were looks that weren’t so silly that only Japan would really like it.
2: Bring back the math!
This one is sort of shooting myself in the foot. I’m terrible at math and I’m barely literate. HOWEVER even I was able to fumble my way through half a dozen Final Fantasy games fairly successfully. My secret was to keep grinding for exp until my melee characters could beat the enemies immune to physical damage! Most fans of the games didn’t take my “force the square peg through the round hole with brute force” approach and whipped out the spread sheets and efficiency was the name of the game. Fun math is beyond my realm but whatever works for people, right! It kept people coming back for each game ready to do it all over again.
3: Don’t worry too much about graphics!
Final Fantasy has been huge on polished graphics and big production style since Final Fantasy 7, growing larger with each generation. This may have grown too large for their financial returns on games. People DO like the always amazing musical score and cutscenes and so forth but not as much as the core of the games. Otherwise The Spirits within and Advent Children probably would have done better. Of course I can’t prove that the cost of doing those things was at the cost of developing the gameplay but what good is the orchestra and movie quality cutscene when nobody can tolerate the game long enough to see and appreciate them?
4: If all else fails just drag out the Moogles.
Moogles are goddamn adorable. If nothing seems to be working then the only solution is to heel turn and start trying to appeal to girls. They love cute things like ponies and Hobbits and what not so put the moogles out there first and wait for the dollars to roll on in.
5: Don’t just become America
Ok I know earlier in this article I said to give up on J-pop and this may be somewhat contradictory to that but don’t be like Capcom and outsource everything from development to ideas and aesthetics to America. Be Japanese enough to maintain a real identity. There’s a certain charm to the often exceedingly dry Japanese humor that’s turned up in recent games like the DLC for Final Fantasy 13 where the boss admits to being worried about being trapped in DLC limbo. There’s a sweet spot that Japan can sometimes hit with games that give it a cross culture appeal that’s hard to pin down. Katamari Damacey comes to mind since it’s so true to itself but I can’t think of a way to work it into Final Fantasy.
I do hope that Final Fantasy 14 is able to relaunch itself successfully in the often tragic world of MMO’s. Anything to break from the lingering fart of World of Warcraft; funny at first but annoying later. I doubt the Final Fantasy franchise is going to go away at this point, its simply too iconic. Maybe the recent stumbles will be enough to wake up the suits to what they need to be doing to survive in the new video gaming world. If any of you HAVEN’T played a Final Fantasy game I recommend you give any of them a try, no matter your console you probably have at least one available. Try to get 2, 6, 7, 9, 10 or 12.
Well folks, next week it looks like I’ll be taking a holiday so I’ll rejoin you all in the new year. Enjoy your winter feast.
Kimo is a contemptuous old coot. With experience in video games dating back to 1988 and a schizophrenic range of games he boasts an impressive range of knowledge of gamings best, and worst. Dwelling in the desolate wastes of the American Midwest he brings to Z1Gaming a perspective that looks for positive qualities in even the worst games.