Friday, November 22, 2013

Blips: Redefining Fantasy

Source: "What is Final Fantasy?"
Author: Ethan Gach
Site: Gaming Vulture

Final Fantasy is in crisis, but is it the sort of crisis that precedes the coming of a chosen team of upstart dreamers who set the world right? It seems like the developers at Square-Enix are in desperate need of such heroes for their own company. As someone who got into Final Fantasy at VII, then went on to play and adore VIII, IX, X, X-2, and XII and went back and played VI too, I would love to see the Final Fantasy series continue to thrive. However, the nostalgia mining, the cold reception to XIII, and subsequent doubling and tripling down on it have put me in a position where I haven't played a Final Fantasy game in over 5 years. So, what would a "modern," "successful," Final Fantasy game be?

Ethan Gach asked that very question, and broke down the necessary components in a blog post. He posits that story is king in Final Fantasy games, and that the series has struggled most with adapting to a contemporary mode of storytelling, long reliant on extensive text dialogue, and later with visually impressive, wordless cutscenes. From what I've read about XIII, it sounded like an attempt to bridge the gap, but one that ended up cutting off the expansive, explorable overworld that is another hallmark of the series. The argument was not that games can't be linear or narrowly focused, but that such a design decision runs counter to what Final Fantasy is supposed to be. So, while I agree across the board with Gach here, I'd like to add the overworld/airship component as an essential Final Fantasy characteristic as well.

As Gach notes, Final Fantasy has been a rather amazing game series in the degree to which it reinvents itself with every entry. The battle systems in all of the Final Fantasy games that I've played have been entirely different, so much so that the constant evolution has also become a series staple. Returning to the well with direct sequels comes off as an indulgent commercial cash-in because it goes against the tradition Square-Enix created for themselves. With game development costs soaring higher than ever for flashy, state-of-the-art games, not to mention ones that are expected to last 50+ hours (more than 5 times the average game length these days), the question remains of whether or not it's possible to keep pushing this formula forward.

Though it contains the increasingly stale character designs of Tetsuya Nomura, Final Fantasy XV could have an answer here. The action-RPG combat certainly looks impressive, and here's hoping there's an interesting depth to it as well. That said, people seemed to think XIII's combat was a pretty great system too, once the game finally let you take the reigns for yourself. I foresee linearity continuing to be an issue here, but in fairness, not enough of the game has been showed to offer a substantive judgement. So, I suppose "What is Final Fantasy?" remains a question without a simple answer, but as for "What can Final Fantasy be?," well, that's up to Square-Enix to prove with XV.

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