@ The Round Table: Infinite Thoughts On Final Fantasy’s Past and Future
With the release of Final Fantasy XIII-2 (and promises to return to a more traditional Final Fantasy styled experience) it made the writers of Infinite Ammo reminisce over our own Final Fantasy experiences, and made us think back to our favorite moments, our most ridiculous ones, and where we’d like the franchise to go in the future.
Favorite FF Game
This is always a tough question. They say you never forget your first (Final Fantasy VIII), and I was always particularly fond of Final Fantasy X. However, while I love both immensely–in addition to others–I’m going to have to say that Final Fantasy XI is my all-time favorite. Of course, that statement just made every single Final Fantasy fan spill their coffee.
Final Fantasy XI offered everything that I like about FF; and more. Exploration, fun battles, intense boss fights; all served within a wealth of cutscenes, missions, quests, and complimented by the ever-evolving score. It was a world that was beckoning to be explored and I did this with a diverse group of players–many of whom became my friends. This may have been the truest FF experience I ever had. I played FFXI for close to five years and it is still one of my most cherished gaming experiences.
I’ve played a good bit of the Final Fantasy franchise–except FFVI and FFVII, which I hear may kinda sorta be alright games worth checking out–and while I have a deep love for my first (Final Fantasy VIII), and an insane addiction to my second (Final Fantasy Tactics) it’s my third game that really did it for me… Final Fantasy X (I barely played FFIX enough to count it).
Final Fantasy X was just everything that I had come to and would ever come to associate with the franchise: a great story filled with enjoyable characters; a complete world to explore and understand; a bestiary of some of the most imaginative and diverse creatures ever brought to life (quite wonderfully on the PS2, I might add) and gameplay that was simple to understand but still provided a good challenge.
There were so many reasons to keep playing: the amount of hours I spent trying to find all of the Summons, the amount of time I tried to unlock the entire Sphere Grid, and the amount of hours I devoted to making the best Blitzball team ever, was enough to make me cherish the game long after it was over. I seriously can’t wait for the HD remake that’s supposed to come out this year.
(While I’m here, I can admit a guilty pleasure for the sequel, FF X-2… fans, you may spill your coffee again).
I have the obvious answer. Only, I feel like these days, it’s not so obvious. I’m of the generation of gamers who’s pissed about Capcom’s treatment of Mega Man. The generation that experienced the original Resident Evil and the birth of “survival horror.”
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that my choice for best FF game is Final Fantasy VII.
But, the thing is, any young gamer reading this would immediately roll their eyes. And, hey, that’s not surprising; modern gamers love passing judgment on old things they’ve never played because G4 or Kotaku says it’s stupid.
So why would I even bother writing this? Because I thought, “Maybe… You could explain why FFVII was the best entry in the series in juuuust such a way… that they’ll actually understand.”
And how would I do that? By making it simple; by explaining why FFVII is the best FF game with one word: “variety.”
Your average FF game (and many JRPG’s) follow a very specific formula. And that formula is “new town, then dungeon, then town for reward, then repeat.” Some games flip it around, starting with dungeons, but either way, it’s the simplest bit of JRPG anatomy, to the extent that you already know what it means, right? Especially if you’ve played any FF game (excepts for FFXIII, whose equation was “hallway, battle, hallway, battle, hallway, hallway, battle, then repeat”). I started with FFVI, and that game is a fantastic example. FFVIII is as well, although the equation was a little bit more… *sigh* (the game’s action packed intro counted as a dungeon [with random encounters and a boss], then Balamb Garden was the first town. Then the training area in Balamb Garden as a dungeon, then Balamb Garden was the second town, then the cave nearby where you get Ifrit was a dungeon, and then… Balamb Garden AGAIN]). Anyway, FFIX and FFX follow the formula a bit more closely and yaddah yaddah yaddah.
Now, I’m not saying there’s something inherently wrong with the equation. But its range is exactly like pick-pocketing–when you do it right, no one notices it’s even happening, and when you do it wrong, people are immediately pissed off (FFVIII).
All of that’s to say, Final Fantasy VII definitely uses the equation, but I’d be insanely hard pressed to tell you how. And why? Because of variety. Of course, your attack on the first Shinra power plant starts us off with a dungeon, but after that dungeon, we get a weird… emotional town stealth sequence, where you walk around, avoid guards and wind up jumping onto a train to escape when you’re spotted? Then you ride the train with your co-conspirators and… Okay. This definitely isn’t just dumping the player right into a town.
Eventually, you do get to one, but it’s a slum underneath a giant city suspended over it on a dish. Compare that to other first locales creatively in other FF’s, and I’m sorry, every other installment immediately loses. I know FFXIII probably had a crazy starting area as well, set inside of the… I dunno… a crystal baby’s time space, [made up word] heart or something, but that’s taking things too far in pretty obvious ways. The only thing I can think of that compares is… Zanarkand from the beginning of FFX, but that’s just a short intro area, and its coolness comes from how it looks, not from the very obvious drama of Midgar (rich on top, poor on bottom), and it’s not like Midgar didn’t also look cool. In comparison, Balamb Garden was just a fancy-looking school. Served hot dogs for lunch–hooray.
But I’m losing track here. The game uses the formula to fuck with your preconceived notions throughout the entire story. There are times when it does follow the formular very clearly, but there are also times when dungeons are exchanged for single, dramatic battles or more interactive areas like the Great Glacier. Towns are replaced by something else entirely, like the Golden Saucer’s collection of minigames, the battles to protect Fort Condor, or events like your trying to pass as a Shinra soldier in Junon. And all of that, right there, is a hint of the true magic of the FVII: the way that the variety I mentioned referred to its GAMEPLAY.
Unlike any other game in the series, VII always, always kept you guessing and excited, and interested. It didn’t bank on super huge, five minute long summon spells, FFVIII. It didn’t throw humongous monsters at you right off the bat as a hook, Sin. It didn’t fill in every last seam with sparkles. It was a dirty, non-sparkling masterpiece of a game that has and always will be the best entry in the series in the same way the original Star Wars trilogy will always be better than the prequels. Because the same way Lucas forgot what made Star Wars great, Square immediately lost the magic of FFVII and ran with flashy lights instead.
My favorite summon would have to be the Magus Sisters from Final Fantasy X. It was always fun to bring those ladies out and wreak havoc. They were unique when compared to other summons at the time. A close second would be Eden from Final Fantasy VIII; I could never figure out what was going on in his cutscene, it was so elaborate. Either that or I simply can’t get the memory of boosting him to 250 out of my head.
For me, there’s no beating how fricking cool Diablos looked in FF VIII. Sinister is not the word. And Anima from FFX is particularly nasty. But I have to give my favorite summon award to…
I have no idea if this is an homage to the infamous, suplex-able Phantom Train boss from FFVI , or something they dreamed up on their own, but one way or another, this has got to me the most ridiculous Summon ever. He’s a train… that comes out of nowhere… and runs you over, before giving you as many status ailments as possible. That’s awesome.
Okay, so he’s not that amazing, but dammit, I love him.
Most Ridiculous FF Moment
Final Fantasy XI. I had a lot of “WTF” moments in that game. A lot of them had to do with the endgame activities. It was always ridiculous to be rolling on through a Dynamis area just to be astral flowed by an avatar and watch your entire alliance’s lifebars drop. Another moment was when I joined a Japanese party and zerged through chapters 7 and 8 of the Chains of Promathia storyline in one night (7pm-4am). I also remember somehow being the only person to die in an alliance of 18 black mages in the Divine Might boss battle. The list goes on.
I’ll have to say “most ridiculous moments” because I have a few. Primarily, mine have to be grinding like a beast.
In FFVIII, I spent hours in one valley fighting a monster called Visage, a monster who seemed to be stuck in the ground and only attacked you with magic that either his hands cast or his head spoke (he would make for a cool enemy to bring back). Fighting him netted fairly okay experience at that point in the game for both the characters and their Summons, and with the character’s Draw System, it was a good monster to gather Magic stock from.
Or playing Final Fantasy Tactics and using the simple “Accumulate/Focus” skill, which did nothing but allow a character to boost their attack a little. But, for a game where every turn counted for something, not only did that little boost help, but it was 10 experience points I could gather while remaining idle. If you avoided the enemy while Accumulating, you could level up your characters several levels or more, until you got bored enough to put your enemy out of its misery.
I have to also add what I call “Summon Hunting”–if I play a FF game, I seriously cannot end it without unlocking every available Summon that I can. I was disappointed when I found that X-2 was bereft of any Summons, but I honestly got a kick out of seeing the animations for when the ladies changed dresspheres. Seeing Yuna become a Dark Knight and crawl out of a hellish underground hole filled with boiling black lava was almost as good as seeing Anima drag enemies into a hellish dimension to utterly destroy them with her other side.
I’d rather take this opportunity to apologize. I don’t have a most ridiculous moment–I have a most WTF moment, but that’s not why I’m apologizing; I’m apologizing because FFVII was such a movement that playing it now will honestly never be the same for anyone who’s new to it. Everyone knows all of the plot twists now, so most people reading this will never understand just how insane it was to first see Zack. To find out the truth about who Cloud was. It was chills–it was complete awe and confusion.
For a kid! LOL. I have to specify; for a kid, back then, who didn’t know what to expect, FFVII was such an insane ride, but no moment in any movie or video game, no fantasy novel or comic book since has ever matched the reveal of Zack. And after fifteen years, with me trying to match that moment in stories of my own, I’m absolutely sure nothing will ever top the impact that moment had on me as a kid.
For the current generation of gamers, who don’t care about Megaman and are completely certain that FFXIII was an awesome Final Fantasy game, I’m not being an ass when I say I’m incredibly sorry you missed that plot twist and that you’ll never experience it like I did. And also, I’m sorry that the first major fanboys in gaming history have made you hate FFVII as much as you do.
Where The Franchise Should Go…
Final Fantasy needs to be given a break. A serious break, like four or five years; maybe more. The franchise has become too over-extended; it feels tired. Final Fantasy XIII is indicative of this. It seems as though Square Enix is all caught up with the software and technology, but they lost something in their methods of storytelling. The unique vibe and aura of FF is simply not there anymore. Additionally, we had Final Fantasy XIII-2 released this week–a sequel that no one wanted nor asked for–and there has already been sketchy confirmation of a Final Fantasy XIII-3. Things have gotten absurd, you can’t pump out a new FF every year without burning out their unique appeal; this is not Assassin’s Creed or Call of Duty. That being said, SE should focus on other franchises like Kingdom Hearts, Chrono Trigger, or maybe one of their much lesser IP’s–anything. But leave Final Fantasy alone for a while; SE is beating a dead horse at this point.
It’s sad, but I’ve found Final Fantasy to be very formulaic. I’ve expressed to several friends how–-especially after playing Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy Dissidia–-I could call a “FF Scene,” like a dance routine. Two people fight some battles, run, come to a clearing, argue over some vague philosophy, camera pans left on one character, camera pans right on the other, they come to some kind of emotional stand-off, they keep moving to more battles. Rinse, repeat, and after about three times the two have an emotional explosion that results with some kind of reluctant mutual understanding. Rinse repeat this entire shebang and at the very end, the two become friends.
It’s sad, but it’s true. Final Fantasy suffers from the same issues that plague Family Guy, The Simpsons, Southpark and many other famous franchises… They get so big that they forget how to do what they do best, and they start to copy or mimic their own work. Does that make any sense? It’s like Hemingway getting amnesia, reading one of his own books, and then trying to replicate that same literary magic that everyone believes he should have. It doesn’t feel as original. It feels like they have creative ideas, but then they put all their effort into the visuals and gameplay, and then enter some random terms into a big “Plot-O-Meter” that spits out a generic frame of a story with random ideas thrown in.
With the advent of Final Fantasy Versus XIII and Final Fantasy Type-0 (which hasn’t reached the states yet) I’d like Square Enix to explore these worlds some more and give gamers DLC that sufficiently lengthens gameplay. While that’s going on, let’s give some attention to Kingdom Hearts and some other Square properties, and let’s revisit some old Final Fantasies in a new way. One idea I keep kicking around in my head is a “Final Fantasy Anniversary” type of game which recreates perhaps the first Final Fantasy, but allows you to use characters from all over the franchise. Or a completely new game, which, in the vein of Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy Tactics, allows you to meet, recruit, and play with characters from all over the franchise, mixing and melding various concepts and ideas into something that properly does the franchise justice.
I know what you’re saying: “Have you played Final Fantasy: Dissidia, CM?” But while Dissidia is a fun game that does exactly what I asked for above, the story is as bad as any other fighting game, and it’s not really an RPG. Give me a full RPG adventure, whether it’s done like an old FF game or fully 3D like the latest ones, and remind me why this is the series I’ve been playing for well over a decade now.
I’m really not sure. I would say that FF should go back to being about charming characters, drama, and really awesome gameplay instead of huge summons and flashy fight systems. But that would completely oust younger gamers (or at the very least, “younger gamers” as the devs at Square Enix imagine them).
As for where the FF is going, Square Enix has taken an incredibly experimental approach to the series ever since FFX (to the point that “experimentation” and “rebirth” has been taken as the series’s approach, although that’s like saying a teen who continually dyes his / her hair is completely comfortable with their personality); X itself was very different from its predecessors and each installment that followed took progressively larger steps away from series staples until we got the chain of hallways that was FFXIII. I honestly don’t feel like I could guess how different the next installment will be, although it feels like there’s the slightest chance it won’t be quite so wildly different next time; it seems like Square Enix finally learned their lesson with XIII. But that doesn’t mean they’re done with their epic, experimental voyage to make the genre-altering, generation-defining lightning of Final Fantasy VII strike a second time.
(Thank you once again to the Final Fantasy Wikia for their pictures and video!)