I’ve been a fan of the Final Fantasy series ever since I first played Final Fantasy 1 on my Nintendo Entertainment System 21 years ago (Damn, has it really been that long?), and recently I’ve been yearning for some of that old school FF flair. I hooked up my trusty NES and took a trip down memory lane. I had forgotten how simplistic, yet how well crafted FF1 was back in the day. Even by today’s standards there are still some redeeming qualities of the game that shine. For instance, the game definitely has replay value. You have the choice to choose from 6 different character classes and you can combine them in any order you want. Want to be a masochist and have 4 Black Mages take on Chaos and his four fiend lackeys? Go right ahead.
FF1 has reminded me why I fell in love with the series. Fast forward to today, though, and that love has definitely dwindled. It feels more like seeing an ex girlfriend on the street. I smile and say hi, but whatever magic there was between us is pretty much gone. There were good times and bad times, but now there’s just an awkward silence. Of course, ex’s can get back together and stay together. Especially if what made the connection falter is remedied. The problem is that this is more unlikely than likely.
Now, before I throw my opinion out there on whether or not the series can be saved, I just want to say that I (like many FF fans) have had my share of good FF games and bad ones. But, what really constitutes a good Final Fantasy or a bad one? Personally, I think it’s all a matter of personal preference. Some people like the newer FF games, such as FFXIII, just the way they are and others feel let down by them. I fall into the latter category, but I don’t see the newer games in the series as complete failures either. The funny thing is, I think the newer FF games give us bits and pieces of what makes a Final Fantasy great. Sometimes we get a great story and other times it’s great gameplay. There are even times where a single moment in the game hypnotizes you and you sit there staring at your T.V. in awe. Even with this being said, the series has been pretty hit and miss in regards to different aspects.
Now, I’m of the opinion that the series can indeed be saved and can once again draw us into amazing worlds. Worlds where we can get lost for a 100 hours and not even realize it. I think Square-Enix need only bring back some of that old school flair that some of the older FF games flaunted so well. One thing I’d like to see is a return to a more medieval style FF with a small amount of technology thrown in. I don’t mind the more high tech look of some of the more modern FF games, but after awhile it starts to feel like there’s just too much of it.
Truth be told, though, the setting isn’t as big of a deal as other things which I’ve narrowed down into 6 key elements. If SE would put even as little as 80% (I’d like to see 100% or higher) effort into the following elements, they could produce a damn good game.
1. Graphics– I don’t think the FF series has really ever suffered from bad graphics. And before I go any further, I just want to clarify something. When I talk about graphics I don’t mean “Are they the latest greatest thing or are
they old 2D graphics?” No, what I mean is are the graphics clear and crisp? Can you recognize what you’re looking at or at least get an idea of what something is? Does the use of color have an effect on your visual senses that leaves you staring in wonderment? Those are the kinds of things that I think really matter when looking at the graphics of a game. Whether or not the game is rendered in 2D or 3D is really not that important, and I see it as nothing more than a preference from the developer’s side.
One example I have is to take a look at Final Fantasy IX’s color palette. Although the game is not one of my favorites from the series, I do remember being mesmerized by the clarity of the graphics and the vibrant colors.
Colors were dark when they needed to be dark and they were bright when they needed to be bright. Sometimes there were a mixture of both and it felt like you were inside of a surreal wonderland painting. Memoria comes to mind when I think of this. Color was splashed masterfully across a canvas and the result was somehow grim and beautiful at the same time.
2. World/Environment– This can have a huge affect on a game. Having a large world is amazing enough, but having one with large varying environments really drives the sense of atmosphere home. Final Fantasy XII comes to mind with this. Deserts, marshlands, grasslands, beaches, snow covered mountain trails, etc. The environments in FFXII blew me away. It is arguably the most open FF world I’ve explored and I loved every minute of it. Giza Plains with its different layout depending on weather, and the Paramina Rift remain a couple of my favorite areas in the game. The Paramina Rift, with its blizzards, looked like it could cause frost build up around the edges of my T.V.
3. Music– I personally think that the soundtrack is one of the most important driving factors in a FF game. It provides a lot of atmosphere and emotion to the game. And maybe it’s just me, but it seems that the more memorable FF games also have the best soundtracks. Strangely enough, though, I think FFX-2 had perhaps one of the greatest intro title screen music themes I’ve heard. Too bad the majority of the soundtrack was weirdly retro. Heres a link to the title intro- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sVvxJG1Ydc
4. Gameplay– Battle system, mini games, side quests, and treasure hunting all fall into this category. No FF game would be complete without mini games. FFVII had many mini games all conveniently bundled in one area–
Gold Saucer. FFVIII had Triple Triad. And who can forget FFX Blitzball? Mini games in FF games have a habit of becoming, well.. habit forming.
Side quests and treasure hunting are pretty much staples in the FF series. The only thing we need, as players, is for them to be worthwhile. I think FF games have (for the most part) done well in this area. If you do side quests or go scouring about an area to find a chest, chances are you will be rewarded handsomely for your efforts.
The battle system is very important in regards to gameplay. You will either enjoy a battle system or get bored of it. I am sure everyone would rather enjoy the battle system
experience than get bored of it. Personally, I really liked the battle set up in FFXIII. It was a great marriage between FFXII and the older ATB system. The only thing I would scrap would be the changing classes in the middle of battle. I prefer to have set class based characters or free form class characters that I could build however I wanted.
5. Characters/Character Development- Again, this is another very important element. Creating a character with a unique style and personality goes a long way. It’s even more of a treat for gamers when we get to watch a character’s mental or emotional state change over the course of the game. For the most part, I think FF usually does a pretty good job with creating unique characters and formulating great
character development. I think, however, that many will agree with me when I say that some FF games have more memorable characters than others. For me, FFVI (one of my top 5 FF games) has some of the most memorable characters, but Kain from FFIV will always be my favorite.
6. Story– Ah yes, the story. This is the element that I think is most difficult for any developer to master. For many types of games, it’s the driving force behind a gamer’s motivation to continue playing. Many games suffer from dull dialogue or just all around boring story elements. We’ve all seen the FF series have its ups and downs with story over the years. For example, I never understood why FFX-2 was made. Many people called it “fan service” and I tend to
agree with that assumption, but I’m a fan of the series and I didn’t see FFX-2 as much of a service. Its story wasn’t very exciting for me and it felt like the the writers were struggling. And when you compare it side by side with its predecessor, FFX, it’s like comparing a turd to a gold nugget. FFX’s story was very well done. The ending was one of the better ones I’ve seen and it gave the game a sense of completion when the end came. Even if it was a sad ending. My favorite story, however, is from Final Fantasy Tactics. There’s betrayal, murder, love, loss, etc. You name it and FFT probably has it.
If SE can get back to the drawing board and put enough time and effort into each of these elements equally, then I’d say we could have a proper comeback on our hands. But, if they continue to mess around with creating sequels and online FF games (sorry, I’ve never seen FF as an online game and I never will), then I’d say we can expect a push and pull response from fans of the series. I want to see them succeed in releasing a new FF game that just blows the naysayers out of the water. Hell, I’d slap myself in the face repeatedly if they did that (mainly to make sure I wasn’t dreaming).
I would like to hear what everyone thinks about SE and whether or not they can recover and polish the lost treasure that is the FF series. Thanks for reading!