With Square-Enix’s Shinji Hashimoto teasing at a new “Final Fantasy” title coming to the recently unveiled Playstation 4, it’s time to take stock of the 25 year old series, figure out what works, what doesn’t, what trends to continue, and what to (hopefully) nip in the bud.
Here are ten ways that the latest installment to the classic franchise can improve upon the series, taking hints from current, successful games, and looking back at what worked in the past, to hopefully breathe some life into the sinking series. If we’re not going to hear anything regarding “Final Fantasy Versus XIII,” maybe we can hope for some innovation in a “Final Fantasy XV,” or at least a shift in direction.
Please feel free to comment on your own things you’d like to see improved on with the next “Final Fantasy” game. “Final Fantasy” is a lot of things to a lot of people, and I’d love to hear what you think works, or doesn’t.
Square Enix Is Making A Final Fantasy Game For PS4. You’ll Probably See It At E3 This Year. [kotaku]
No new chocobo theme.
We’ll start with something basic, something classic: the Chocobo Theme. Veterans of the series will know this charming melody by heart, so it came as a surprise to many when, in the latest installment of the series, “Final Fantasy XIII-2,” this was replaced by this.
Adding lyrics to the song is nothing new, and no one is a bigger fan of re-imagining these classic themes than myself, however discretion must be used, and I’d love to meet whoever took “metal chocobo” literally. There were many areas where “Final Fantasy XIII-2” improved upon its predecessor. This was not one of them.
This nostalgic sentiment will permeate the remainder of this list, however you will only be subjected to this abomination once.
Give the option for original Japanese dialogue.
A trend becoming increasingly popular among JRPG’s is to include the option to experience the game as it was originally intended, with native voice acting and subtitles. Just as anime fans will more often than not prefer the “subbed” version to the “dubbed,” the quality of many JRPG’s ends up suffering when foreign voice actors are brought in. Often slight cultural references can be overlooked, and the mood of a segment betrayed because of it.
Voice acting is not an easy thing to do, and for every “Mass Effect,” there’s a “Final Fantasy X.” It’s no coincidence that popularity in the series began to decline around the advent of voice acting, but if we’re going to bring “Final Fantasy” into the next generation, the quality must be raised. If not, at least let us read along.
Microtransactions. The bane of my existence. Where DLC paved the way for expanding video-game content past the disc, microtransaction-laden games like “Final Fantasy: All The Bravest” wave the middle finger high, unabashedly asking fans “Did you want to keep playing? That’ll be another two bucks.”
Now with console games like “Dead Space 3” utilizing the microtransaction business model, and “Final Fantasy XIII-2” having optional, superfluous, costume DLC, it seems like the next logical step to wed the two and ask players to pay to acquire the game’s legendary equipment, instead of, you know, spending hundreds of hours pressing ‘X.’
Give us back the job system.
The job system in “Final Fantasy” whereby characters assume different roles which can be developed and add to the abilities of the party, has been around since “Final Fantasy V.” However, as of late, the trend seems to have shifted to more static characters, that by the end of the game are all kind of the same.
“Final Fantasy X’s” rock-paper-blitzball style of class development was interesting, but by the endgame all of the characters could learn each other’s abilities, and where once players had to bring out the projectile guy to fight birds, and the heavy hitter for armored opponents, now they could simply bash ‘X’ for the same effect.
The game’s sequel “Final Fantasy X-2” brought back jobs in the form of dress-spheres, and though this might’ve been off-putting for those who could not reconcile their masculinity with playing dress-up, it ended up being one of the more in-depth aspects of the game, and any “Final Fantasy” game to date.
Tear down the hallways, open up the world.
One of the main complaints about “Final Fantasy XIII” was that the game was too linear. Fans felt like they were just going through a hallway until they were teased with a massively open section, only to be funneled back into an even tighter hallway for the duration of the game. This complaint could adequately describe “Final Fantasy X” as well (almost exactly), and in an age where games like “Skyrim” and “Fallout 3” allow users to experience vastly expansive worlds while not sacrificing graphics, there is no excuse for such linear gameplay.
No more card games, let’s leave the casino.
Some may argue against this, and I encourage that in the comments, but the inclusion of a card-based mini-game is a cop out that does not do games with the graphical prowess deserved of the name “Final Fantasy” justice. Blitzball was an interesting inclusion to the series, but for every mini-game like that there are two more casino worlds and collectible card games. While these have come to be staples of the series, unless they’re used to propel the story and lore of their respective world further, they’re a waste of time.
Be self-referential, have a sense of humor.
From its inception, humor has been a cornerstone of “Final Fantasy.” Often low-brow, the “Final Fantasy” series prospered because, though there was always depth and immersion, there was also an underlying sense of childishness. Inclusions of characters like Biggs and Wedge, and a Cid in almost every game were little tongue-in-cheek nods to the players that the developers were still on their side, that they still got it.
Somber, emotional moments will always reign in “Final Fantasy,” but for every time we find out that we’re on a suicide mission, or that things are a lot darker than we thought they were, give us an airship pilot with the mouth of a sailor, or a ninja-girl with an addiction to attention. When I sit down to play a “Final Fantasy” I know there will be beautifully rendered, poignant moments involving characters that I have (hopefully) come to care about, but I should also know that these moments will be punctuated with some cheap jokes. There’s a reason it’s called comic relief.
Keep us with our characters.
In the crafting of a complex narrative, often writers will need to show things that are going on concurrent to the main events on screen. There are numerous ways to do this, often involving cut scenes. “Final Fantasy IX” had an interesting approach, allowing players to elect to view these additional scenes, or not, with on screen prompts. “Final Fantasy XIII” instead chose to break the party into three separate, but intersecting, narratives, and not only did the roleplaying suffer, but so too did the narrative fluidity.
Players of roleplaying games want to be swept off their feet and flown to new and unusual lands, in the shoes of incredible characters doing incredible things. This immersion allows players to relate to the characters they portray. Their choices become our choices, their growth becomes our growth, where they go, we go, in a logical series of locations and events. This continuity is hard to accomplish when control keeps jumping between three parallel story-lines. The solution is not, as the game’s sequel seemed to believe, to limit the party to less characters (the apparent answer given in all “Final Fantasy _-2” games), but instead to find a way to immerse the players in the narrative while handing over the reins and allowing them to drive the story forward, at their own pace.
Allow for deeper customization.
Hand in hand with the re-introduction of a job system, let players have more control over their characters’ appearance and attributes. One of the most distinguishing and important factors in the “Final Fantasy” series is the rich character-driven narrative structure each game follows, and allowing for deeper customization would not betray this. With each addition to the series adding new and unique characters, Cloud Strife, Cecil Harvey, Tidus and Lightning to name a few, what I’m suggesting is not to shift to a nameless hero, a la the more Western approach to roleplaying games. Fans do not need a new Dragonborn, but the ability to alter appearance based on in-game decisions would add a new level of depth and immersion to the series. Equipping new armor? Let it be reflected in the character’s appearance. The inclusion of a more detailed armor system in general, contrasting the recent trend of minimal, and character specific armor, would be an improvement to the series. It seems, despite its flaws, for every step “Final Fantasy XII” took forward, Square-Enix took the series two steps backward with subsequent iterations.
Keep things simple.
Since its inception, the Final Fantasy series has developed in marvelous ways. Gameplay mechanics have, with each installment, evolved past the simple, turn-based, four character party of the debut title. Yet it seems that with each new title we stray farther and farther from the core values instilled in the original series. There is a reason the original games sell so well, despite being re-released for almost every platform currently available, they are simple, timeless stories. A group of heroes from unusual backgrounds, sometimes explained, sometimes not, come together to face insurmountable odds to save a land in jeopardy. While the details will inevitably reflect the socio-political issues contemporary with their release, as is the case with all works of fiction, maybe it’s time to take a step back and reflect on exactly what “Final Fantasy” is.
“Final Fantasy” is an escape. While the “Final Fantasy” games have always been a little political, lately they’ve taken a shift toward an anti-government sentiment, focusing on a small group trying to overthrow a large organization. Maybe, just maybe, we could break this trend and remember a time when the king summoned four warriors of light to save the kingdom, not overthrow it. Why not switch things up a little bit? A quest about treasure? A rescue mission? There are a plethora of plot devices as of yet unexplored in the “Final Fantasy” multi-verse, it would be nice to see their inclusion instead of the typical antiestablishmentarian approach.