Throughout this series, I’ve celebrated Final Fantasy’s anniversary by looking at the past; now it’s time to take a look at both the present, and the future. This article will be less of a highlight reel, and much more of an opinion, so please take it as such. Also, the games I will be discussing are fairly new, so I’m going to do my best to stay vague on details, but I have to go ahead and give a SPOILER ALERT.
To say that Final Fantasy XIII is a divisive game is a huge understatement. It was an attempt by Square to address the growing concern of fans over the lack of innovation found in the Final Fantasy series. While the game succeeded on some fronts, such as the beautifully balanced battle system, at the end of the day, it didn’t play like a Final Fantasy game, and it suffered because of that. In past games, part of the draw was the huge, fleshed-out world to explore; that wasn’t the case in XIII. You were given an objective, and then pointed in the correct direction, with no chance for deviation. It’s quite frustrating to see a beautiful world, just aching to be explored, and not being able to get there. It also lacked what Final Fantasy has always had in abundance: wonderful characters. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Lightning; but the rest of them were lackluster at best. Hope, with his deep-seated need to whine, is clearly the worst offender; however, Sazh nips at his heels. (I know he’s one of the few characters a lot of people like, but in my eyes, he just comes off as a racist caricature.) The story is convoluted and ultimately forgettable. Your goal is to save Serah, Lightning’s sister and Snow’s fiancé, but it seemed like the developers shied away from anything resembling love. Snow being Serah’s fiancé is about as believable as a chocobo riding a cactuar. Lightning seems worried for Serah, but no more than she was for various other characters throughout the game that were far less important than her sister.
Square was very vocal about the fact that they planned to address the complaints leveled at Final Fantasy XIII in the sequel, Final Fantasy XIII-2. And, after playing the game myself, I can see the growth. They took the stellar battle system of XIII, and made a few minor tweaks, making it more streamlined. You are given many more opportunities to explore, despite the fact that there is still no world map. There is a clear villain, even though his motives may give you pause. The new monster system is extremely entertaining, and makes up for the game’s lack of playable characters.
However, there are still a few missteps. Square is still unable to make you feel anything for the characters; even at the very end, I didn’t really care what became of them. There is little to no emotion to be had in the game that doesn’t come off as heavy-handed. But, most importantly, it still doesn’t feel like you’re playing Final Fantasy; it has more of a Kingdom Hearts feel. There is a certain atmosphere that permeates every Final Fantasy, whether it’s one of the best (III/VI) or one of the worst (VIII), and it seems like Square has lost that magic. When you play a Final Fantasy, you expect to feel the importance of the mission at hand, to know that the lives of everyone on the planet lie in your hands, to be the ultimate hero. And in that respect, Final Fantasy XIII-2 fails miserably. It’s still a very good game, but it’s not a Final Fantasy game.
While I have issues with the latest installments of the series, I can understand what Square is attempting. The vocal fan base is calling for innovation, and they are attempting to comply, but are losing something vital in the process. I truly enjoyed the steps forward that XIII-2 made, but are they truly worth what was lost? I don’t know, and that’s what’s frustrating. I want the games to change and grow, but I want them to keep certain aspects. My fear is that, much like a child, as the series grows and changes, something is lost, and it can’t be recaptured; a certain sense of innocence and wonder. Of course, this leads to an inevitable question: is it the game, or is it me that has lost that sense? Do I look back at the older games with rose-tinted glasses? If I was 26 the first time I played Final Fantasy II, would I have felt the same way? I don’t know. The more I think about it, the more I feel that it could be me that’s changed, not the games. Everything is pretty much the same for the games, apart from the intangibles. My life has changed drastically; I’m thousands of miles from my childhood home, married, have a job, responsibilities. I’ve had people I love die, and had new ones come into my life. Could my complaints be directed to the wrong place altogether? It’s a distinct possibility.
Regardless, it doesn’t quench my desire for a game that takes me back to that time, and I’ve not given up hope for Final Fantasy. In the future, I want the series to continue moving forward, but I want that atmosphere that it’s been lacking for the last few years; the one that weaves me into the storyline, shifting me along the strands of an untold legend, leading me to the feeling that maybe, one day, it could be me charting the course of history. I know that at the end of the day, it is just a videogame; but it’s really not. Final Fantasy, for me, has been far more than “just a videogame”. It means as much to me as my favorite piece of literature, my favorite song, my favorite painting, sculpture, photograph. It’s art, and art will always be more than the sum of its parts. All I can do is wait for the next game, and hope that it speaks to me the way it has in the past.
And I will always be waiting for the next Final Fantasy.
Happy Anniversary Final Fantasy, and thank you.