The Final Fantasy name is one synonymous with the JRPG genre, after its string of successes from the late 80s through the 90s. However the general murmur at the moment is that the modern series has lost its edge, dividing the fans with dramatic gameplay changes and sometimes bizarre design choices. It is with the classic titles that Final Fantasy is held most dearly, yet is this kind of nostalgia in fact making it harder for us to accept and enjoy a newer, more modern franchise?
It wouldn’t be too hard to make the case that the classic Final Fantasy titles are more popular today than they’ve ever been, with almost every one of the first nine games now quite easily accessible to modern gamers. We live in an era where ‘nostalgia sells’ (Guardian) and its clear from the buzz surrounding the announcement of a FFVII remake that this stance is still going strong. Square-Enix has been riding the nostalgia train for a long time now it wasn’t until 2008’s Dissidia: Final Fantasy where all the numbered titles finally came together under one roof. Since then we’ve had more remasters and rereleases, a sequel to Dissidia, Theatrhythm, Record Keeper, a successor series in Bravely Default, and soon World of Final Fantasy to remind us how glorious the good old days were. If only the modern end of the series was being met with such enthusiasm.
Since FFX in 2001, it seems Square-Enix has been trying to reimagine the series, more so than the stylistic changes seen from FFVI to FFVIII. The fact that FFX had no traversable World Map is now a small change compared to what we’ve seen since. From FFXI through to FFXIV, none of the main Final Fantasy titles seem to fit the same kind of mould as one another. This gives the series a lack of identity apart from its highly successful predecessors. This has gone so far as to tarnish its name, with such instances as in one interview for Lightning Returns where animation of the protagonist’s breasts is on the table, causing at least one critic to declare ‘Final Fantasy isn’t dying… it’s already dead’ (Wired). Add to that the botched FFXIV launch and the painfully long development of FFXV and one can be forgiven for having lost faith in the modern franchise.
However kudos can be given to Square-Enix; at least they’re trying to evolve the series, which is now more important than ever in an intangible industry. We’ve had many sequels and spin-offs now that seem to be almost testing out various gameplay ideas while the main series finds its footing. Sure this is frustrating when such sequels come about when ‘the company [Square-Enix] quickly turned to fan feedback to ensure that future titles would better live up to their expectations’ (ShackNews) but at least there seems to be an attempt to figure out where the series wants to improve. It’s a troubling time to be sure and it becomes very difficult to evolve something so beloved into a new mould, as evident with the case of FFXII, in which such a great game still didn’t gel with the fan base. But surely Square-Enix is right in thinking the classic gameplay framework couldn’t last forever.
However it seems the classic framework is still alive and kicking, so much so that it almost stunts the growth of the modern iteration of the series. Thus how can we adapt to a new mythology when the old is being revisited on so many levels. In an interview with the Record Keeper development team, Square-Enix producer Ichiro Hazama stated that,
‘Of course, Record Keeper presents Final Fantasy in a form that’s very easy to pick up for fans, but it’s also a very easy way for casual players to enter the world of Final Fantasy. In that way, it presents a new opportunity for the Final Fantasy brand.’ (TouchArcade)
However what this opportunity actually brings, and the same can be said with Theatrhythm, is that it brings everyone back to a realm fuelled by nostalgia, one in which even the newer, more experimental titles are brought back to this classic 90s JRPG framework. Unlike Dissidia (which places the characters in a new gameplay environment) they take us back to the past, ultimately making us even more uncomfortable with the prospect of a modern brand. Yet with Bravely Default carrying the baton of this classic gameplay style, this isn’t something that the Final Fantasy brand is going to gain from. I only hope that FFXV can appease the fans despite this as, while these spin-off are highly accessible and very enjoyable titles, they aren’t doing any favours in the long run while a modern day Final Fantasy is still struggling to establish itself.
We still await the release of FFXV and thus the next chapter in this legendary franchise’s history. If Square-Enix can push this highly anticipated game into every console owners home then perhaps this might finally provide some foundations for the series to return to its former glory. However until then we must accept with a heavy heart that ‘the modern games are at this point living entirely off an inherited reputation’ (Wired). The more we take shelter in this inheritance, the harder it becomes to accept something new.
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