Final Fantasy – the new model and what’s missing

Final Fantasy, a game which summons forth dreams of magic, friendship, betrayal, monsters, chocobos, and of course- Cid! There was a time that I would wait with great anticipation for a new Final Fantasy game to be released so I could charge through it like a madman accomplishing all of the side quests and exploring the entire world. Alas, that time is no more. Final Fantasy 13 really left me with a disgusting taste in my mouth. Gone are the days of the world map, the exciting unique side quests, the strategic battles, and the motifs that really make a Final Fantasy game Final Fantasy. I would like to take a closer look at each of the missing pieces that the team over at Square-Enix left out of the newer FF games that really left me with a dour expression on my face.

The World Map

Traditionally you start a Final Fantasy game in a location like a town, cave, or dungeon.  After overcoming a great struggle you finally escape the  predetermined confines and emerge in a wide open space known as the world map.  Programmers and developers can predict where you will go on the world map, but they cannot predict in what order or how long you will spend in each location.  Sometimes I would spend hours just wandering around leveling up in a forest because the creatures there gave a high return on gold which after beating many levels I would spend on better gear.  Once I maxed out on the best local gear I would make my way through the next part of the story and walk through my enemies with great ease due to the time I spent leveling.  There were other things hidden on the world map as well such as a chocobo forest, a secret location, a side quest, easter eggs, and special characters you can only obtain if you decided to explore.  The concept of exploration is part of the reason that Bethesda Softworks Elder Scrolls series have moved into the #1 spot in my list of all time favorite games where Final Fantasy once reigned supreme.  I want to feel like I am the one playing the game, if I feel that my path is too far predetermined I don’t want to play anymore.  That is the new Final Fantasy model, I remember playing Final Fantasy X and waiting forever to get to the world map.  I was so disappointed that there wasn’t a map at some point I just quit playing.  I don’t remember where or why, I just got bored.  I felt like the game was taking me on a train ride and there was no way off, no way to abort the ride and explore the world.  I was trapped and I hate the feeling of being trapped or forced to do anything.  So I hit the “abort” switch and turned off my console, never to return.  Once again I gave Final Fantasy another shot with Final Fantasy XIII and man I wish I hadn’t.  Once again there isn’t a world map and the game has become so bad at railroading that you don’t even get to make choices or get the illusion of having choices.  I’m sorry Square-Enix, but isn’t the concept of a “Role-Playing Game” to play the role of another character and make the decisions you want?

Role-Playing Game?

If you work at Square-Enix and forgot what the definition of a role-playing game is, here it is from Wikipedia: 

Role-playing video games (commonly referred to as role-playing games or RPGs) form a loosely-defined genre of video games with origins in pen-and-paper role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, using much of the same terminology, settings and game mechanics. The player in RPGs controls one character, or several adventuring party members, fulfilling one or many quests. The major similarities with pen-and-paper games involve developed story-telling and narrative elements, player character development, complexity, as well as replayability and immersion. Electronic medium removes the necessity for a gamemaster and increases combat resolution speed. RPGs have evolved from simple text-based console-window games into visually rich 3D experiences.

So, Square-Enix- can you tell me what makes Final Fantasy XIII a RPG?  It seems to me that I have no control over character development due to the fact that every character earns points after a battle which can be used to spend on abilities.  My choice is to get those abilities or not get them, really not much of a choice at all.  The only other side game is collecting nuts, bolts, feathers, and random bits of useless junk that are somehow connected to my weapons, armor, and items to make them stronger.  I’m sorry, but it’s not fun it’s annoying and I always feel like I wasted something I had spent a lot of time acquiring because I only got a 1.25x bonus or whatever.

Decision Making & Character Development

Another thing I miss from the newer Final Fantasy games is the decision making.  Although many times your response to a question would not have a profound impact on the story, but it may shape how certain things turn out.  Even in Final Fantasy 7 you could answer questions or choose to be mean and distant to the other characters.  You could explore as little or as much as you wanted.  You have the chance to obtain Yuffie and Vincent if you choose to or finish the game without them.  It’s things like that, that make Final Fantasy- Final Fantasy.

Side Quests & Puzzles

In Final Fantasy III/VI when the main character Terra takes a fall you must defend her from an onslaught of enemies using the thief Locke.  The enemies begin to increase and just as you think hope is lost 2 or 3 Moogles show up and you have to strategically arrange them to block off passages from the advancing enemies.  If any of the enemies reach Terra, the game is over as the main character has perished.  Your job has suddenly changed from exploration and character dialog to a strategic puzzle game incorporating enemy combat.  If just one of your blocking groups falls in combat then the enemy advances and could possibly ruin your day if you’re not quick enough to respond and re-evaluate the scenario at hand.  This is just one example of many puzzles that were introduced throughout the FF series.  These puzzles and side quests add an extra element of game play that is enjoyable and a challenge to the player, something new and fresh every so often helps keep a game from getting stale.  In addition to puzzles there were also side quests which while not necessary to complete the game as a whole were available should a player choose to take them on.  The Elder Scrolls series has capitalized on this and developed thousands of such quests to intersperse throughout their games along with the main quest.

Unique Characters with believable back story

In Final Fantasy VII there were some really strange characters like Cait Sith, Vincent, and Redd.  Although they were very odd (especially Cait Sith) they had believable back stories which tied them in to the world around them.  In addition their stories didn’t distract too much from the game at hand, but in fact added to it.  For example Yuffie steals your materia as well as the materia of your enemies.  You both end up chasing her trying to get it back and in the end finally fight and defeat Yuffie.  If you use the save point after the battle she will run away and steal your Gil!  You must talk with her and present just the right answers for her to join your team.  It makes sense, she is a thief trying to get ahead in the world (and a little attention) and once she realizes that your team is so powerful she decides she finally wants to be part of a winning team.

In Final Fantasy II/IV Cecil is a dark knight who feels he is doing a duty to his nation.  When he finally realizes that what is being asked of him is wrong he goes on a quest to right his wrongs and becomes a paladin and makes it his life’s duty to thwart evil and cleanse the land of the demons which once even drove his actions.

These are unique, interesting, and involved characters whose back story incorporates elements within the game and leads you in a certain direction.  Square-Soft kept it light on the background though, they realized that less is more and that a simple explanation as to why Cecil had been a dark knight was enough for us without delving deep into his past.  Even in a tabletop Dungeons and Dragons game there’s only so much the players want to know about a NPC.  They don’t need to know who his father is and what town they used to live in unless relevant to the immediate story.  It is important to build back story, but build in the right direction and just enough of a foundation so as to appear believable.   In Final Fantasy XIII there are so many different stories with so much information that I find myself overwhelmed.  It took me more than half the game just to figure out what the hell I was doing and what the deal was with Pulse and L’Cie and Fal’Cie and some other Cie.  I don’t even care because there’s just way too much information about something I felt throw in the middle of as a player.  I grew weary of hearing Hope crying and being a baby all the time and Lightning’s stupid “I’m too bad-ass for anyone” attitude.  It was just unbelievable.  Instead of coming to understand these characters I came to loathe them and with they would perish in battle, especially Hope who bugs the shit out of me.  I have tried to finish this game on disc 3 of the Xbox 360 version… tried and tried again but I just find myself bored out of my mind.  I’m on a one way path through button mashing and cut scenes neither of which interest me in the least.

Square-Soft I think you’ve lost a fan, I’m going to go play roms of the old school Final Fantasy games now and wait for Skyrim to arrive.  What’s that? *KUPO!* OK, I won’t leave this article in a grumpy mood.  Yes, I’ll talk about you a bit… no I don’t want to talk about Stiltzkin.  He had his own website and a podcast to boot, he can do his own promotion!

Motifs

A motif is a reoccurring element or theme.  Final Fantasy has constructed these quite well over the years only to dump them all in favor of more realistic looking people in a world where technology reigns supreme.

The first of these motifs is the ch.. OK!  OK!  I’ll talk about you first! The Moogle!  The wondrous, adventurous, and cute… er I mean handsome Moogles!  They have been a part of Final Fantasy since Final Fantasy III posing as bodyguards for the sage Doga.  Over the course of the series their importance grew and they came to attend to all sorts of tasks from information suppliers to merchants and even save points!  The moogle is a Final Fantasy staple and one that is sorely missed by old time fans like myself.  What?  No, that’s enough I have to get this article finished!  Give me back my shoe!  OK, ok- I’ll mention him. Stilzkin was a famous Moogle who traveled the whole world just for fun.  He has seen everything there is to see and experienced more than most Moogles do in their lifetime.

Next on our list is the Chocobo, a cute and cuddly bird used as a mount and sometimes doubles as a friend.  The Chocobos have a very rich history intertwined with the Final Fantasy series, you can read more about them on my post “The History of the Chocobo“.

The last motif I would like to touch on would be that of Cid… ah the epic saga of the men named Cid. Most Cid’s have a few things in common as follows:

  • Mechanically minded and frequently portrayed as engineers or inventors.
  • Often the source of the airships the player uses toward the game’s end, as its captain or its creator
  • Usually older than the main cast, sometimes by several decades.
  • Often portrayed as a fatherly figure, sometimes as a the biological, adoptive, or surrogate father of one of the main characters

Cid still made an appearance in Final Fantasy XIII and for that I was grateful.  The battle I was forced to wage against him was also quite formidable and was one of the only points in the game where I felt adequately challenged.  Thank you Cid.

Combat

Final Fantasy XIII was lacking in engaging battles.  I found myself constantly mashing the same button over and over again and every once in awhile switching paradigms to heal my party.  There was a bit of strategy during boss battles, but for the most part Final Fantasy XIII was a breeze if you were of the appropriate level and just responded quickly enough when it was your turn.  Does anyone remember the complexities of managing an entire party of spell casters while doing battle in Final Fantasy II/IV?  Near the end of the game you have these ultra powerful characters with over 50 spells taking on huge dragons as random encounters in a moon cave.  You have to work quickly to stay alive and time things just right to get the drop from above with Kain and pummel your enemies with powerful spells while keeping status ailments off your characters.  There was a lot of strategy going on, especially in boss battles which became like a frantic game of Tetris on level 9 when the pieces begin falling straight down and you have little time to think.  Without strategic, engaging, fast paced battles I quickly lose interest in the combat aspect of Final Fantasy.

 

Well, that does it for my dis-fest on the new Final Fantasy games.  More than anything I hope Square-Enix listens to it’s old school fans and finds a way to make both the new and old happy.  I think games should always be growing and evolving as well as keeping the tried and true that people have come to love over the years.  When Square-Enix realizes that they can make a lot more money just being true to the spirit of the Final Fantasy saga they will realize that it is the journey not the cut-scenes and fancy graphics that make a Final Fantasy game live forever.  If they fail to realize this than I fear that the next Final Fantasy will in fact be final. 

*Kupo?*


 

 

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About Jonathan G. Nelson

Jonathan G. Nelson is the editor-in-chief and owner of NERD TREK. He is also owner/publisher at AAW Games / AdventureAWeek.com, a tabletop gaming company based in Snoqualmie, WA. Connect with Jonathan via Facebook.