OPINION: A Brief Analysis of Final Fantasy Disease

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

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By


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent those of Operation Rainfall as a whole.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I want to begin first of all with a concession that this opinion is not especially timely to the news here, but it’s taken me some time to compile my thoughts together and try to rein in my focus. I find that there’s much to be said on this topic, and I have a feeling I’m going to be writing about it again in the future when I attempt to bring in my focus. But that’s for another time, and I digress.

Final Fantasy | Final Fantasy logo

Last month, 4Gamer interviewed Katsuhiro Harada, the director of the Tekken series, as well as Hajime Tabata, director of Final Fantasy XV, in a joint interview. In the discussion, Tabata spoke rather frankly about what has happened since he took over for previous game director Tetsuya Nomura in 2012. When he grabbed the reins, Tabata noticed a great amount of conflict within the team, with many different aspects and views of what made Final Fantasy great holding up development. The chief problem he cites is Final Fantasy Disease: “It refers to people within the company who can’t imagine anything other than their own view of Final Fantasy.” Continuing:

“Since the root is a strong self-affirmation, one’s own view of Final Fantasy takes more priority than the team’s success. If that view of Final Fantasy isn’t fulfilled, then they’re convinced that it’s bad for Final Fantasy. They think, ‘Since Final Fantasy is a special team, then we are also special because we are making it. When the new Final Fantasy comes out, everybody is going to be so into it.’ But that’s not the reality of the situation, is it?…We’re not special. Wake up.”

To begin: kudos to him for being so frank at how unhelpful that perspective is for game development. While it can be good for members of a team to offer all kinds of perspectives for the betterment of the project, it can also be incredibly divisive, especially when every person with a perspective thinks theirs is the best or the “true” one. If I might hazard a guess as to who on the development team would be thinking like this, it would probably be the younger ones, who either A) grew up with the series as a staple in their gaming diet, or B) are simply products of the Internet generation, where everyone is given a voice and some sort of entitlement because of it. (And before you get mad at me for this particular point, remember…I am also the embodiment of that generation.)

Final Fantasy| Hajime Tabata

This man does not take kindly to entitlement.

However, he did not stop there. He recounted that he then realized that many people have this disease, this perspective of what Final Fantasy truly is. Given his emphasis that “everyone” has it, Tabata must have taken note of criticism of Square Enix’s other titles as well as the resistance of fans to the changes Final Fantasy XV was adding to the formula. Though embracing some things fans have missed in recent installments (an open world and exploration, for example), the game is also set to use a real-time, Kingdom Hearts-esque battle system, the first time the series has used that in its almost 30-year history. This effort to modernize is seen as a weakness by some, even as a cop out from others who claim that it’s “not what we want from this franchise.”

It is no surprise that Tabata’s comments have been received in a variety of ways: some positive, some negative. It’s perhaps just proof of exactly what he was talking about: everyone has an idea of what is best for the series. And I think his comments are completely, totally justified.

In order to illustrate just why I believe that, I feel it somewhat necessary to recount a little of my own personal history with Final Fantasy. My first experience with the series was Final Fantasy VI through an emulator my brother gave me over ten years ago. Even though I fell in love with it almost immediately, I didn’t feel the urge to explore the rest of the series until right around the time I graduated high school. All throughout this time, playing Final Fantasy IV DS and XIII, I found curious spots of division with fans of the franchise. The most prevalent points of contention, as might be expected, relate to Final Fantasy XIII and its subsequent sequels, which I hold as not only my personal favorite in the series, but actually generally as one of my favorite games ever made. But even though I’m not alone in that, there have been no Final Fantasy games to have such a divided opinions, save perhaps Final Fantasy VIII, but people seem to have forgiven that game while XIII continues to draw negativity. Over the years, I have heard and read about most every possible complaint about XIII that there is. I’ll paraphrase:

“The characters suck and don’t have a personality/are too out there.”

“The story is no good.”

“The battle system is just pressing A/X all the time.”

“There’s no challenge.”

“It’s too linear.”

“There are no towns or shops.”

“No airship or exploration? WTF?”

“It’s too grind heavy when it opens up/it’s too hard when it gets to the open world part.”

“The leveling systems are stupid.”

Final Fantasy | Final Fantasy XIII Screenshot

Lightning finds your lack of faith…disturbing.

I realize looking at video games can be a tremendously subjective and experience-driven process. After all, I can’t tell someone they’re wrong for not liking a game…who am I to say that people have to like the characters or the story of a particular game? I can’t make someone like something they don’t like; I can only disagree with their reasons for doing so. And although I would like to address these complaints in some way about Final Fantasy XIII in another editorial someday, that’s only tangentially related. If you notice something about most (if not all) of those criticisms and complaints, all of them point to a longing or desire for an ideal – a Final Fantasy that most fits what one thinks Final Fantasy should be. This is Final Fantasy disease in a nutshell.

Having experienced what Tabata is saying firsthand, I am forced to agree with him about this entitlement, but I do so gladly. After all, as a fan of Final Fantasy XIII, I have experienced a great amount of difficulty in justifying to other Final Fantasy fans why I love the game as much as I do. After all, it betrays the staples of the series, right? It doesn’t have towns, the battle system is very different, and there is little to no exploration for most of the game. So it can’t possibly be recognizable as Final Fantasy, right???

Well, maybe not so much…

More of Final Fantasy Disease on Page 2

About Alexander Jones

Alexander Jones is a 24 year-old with a BA in History and has been gaming as far back as he can remember. Growing up, he was raised strictly on Nintendo consoles, but this fueled a passion for Japanese gaming and design. Though he does still have a soft spot for Nintendo, he has grown to love any developer and console with fun, enjoyable games. Some of his favorite games of all time include Ocarina of Time, Final Fantasy XIII, Chrono Trigger, and Katawa Shoujo.


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  • deadeye

    There’s so much in-fighting in the FF fanbase. Everyone has their favorite, and everyone has their notion of what FF should be. Some people think Final Fantasy XI or XIV aren’t real FFs because they’re MMOs. That’s just pedantic.

    Personally, I feel like franchises should never be stuck being a certain thing just out of tradition, so long as it still stays true to the original ideals and what is good about the series. Lets be real here, turn based combat is not so inherent to Final Fantasy that the series should live or die by it.

    Also, most hardcore FF fans are adults now, presumably. We should all have the maturity to realize that each game has its pros and cons.

    • Hogtree Octovish

      Eh.
      It’s not as if the only games released in the Final Fantasy games were the 14 (soon to be 15) numbered ones.

      My problem is that in a franchise were most of the games are wholly single-player (even most of the non-numbered games), it seems a bit odd that two of the so-called “main” games require an internet connection to even start.
      Call me pedantic all you want, but to me there seems a big disconnect in that.

      Not saying they aren’t “true” FF games. They definitely look it.
      But they probably shouldn’t have been “numbered”, “main” FF games.

      Otherwise, I agree.
      I mean, personally, I wasn’t a fan of 2 (annoying level-up system), 8 (Drawing got boring after a while and the empty levelling drained me), 12 (the Gambit system lead to too much auto-play) or 13 (chapter level caps, main character death leading to Game Over, no real exploration for most of the game, etc, etc) but they did feel like FF games despite their flaws.

  • Tiredman

    My viewpoint is the reason they changed up FF’s combat system for 15 is because Squeenix has gotten lazy. They don’t do creative combat anymore, because the vast majority of their games are action rpg’s, instead of pretty much anything else. That is one of many reasons Bravely Default got a big fan base, and why many people are looking forward to I Am Setsuna. There are tons of action games out there, of both pure and rpg variety, but most turn based, or slower combat systems are 9 times out of 10 relegated to handheld only systems. This is just one of many, many problems.

    Next up we have the withdrawal of many things that us folks who have been playing FF since part 1 have taken for granted. An example is chocobo’s for instance. They might as well not even have been in FF 13. They were relegated to a small area, and were allowed to play a small mini-game that felt shoehorned in at the last instant. Fun optional content. FF 13 had optional content, but 99% of it was combat, combat, and more combat. You don’t even explore and find fun optional stuff, you just go up to a stone, or something, press a button at it, then combat. Also we have moogles who haven’t been done justice in a long time. FF 13-3’s moogles were kinda nice, but they were wrapped by another game that just didn’t feel like an FF, and was ruined, for me, by too much content feeling empty because it was made dlc, and just a weird, knee-jerk reaction feeling that made the complexity of everything in it feel like somebody didn’t get anything they wrote proofed to make sure it was ready for consumption by the gaming public.

    Another problem is that Squeenix in general just doesn’t create well done content anymore. Everything has to be tied to dlc, or has to drastically change from what people were expecting, and hoping, it would be. They focus too much on story and graphics and not enough on the rest of the stuff. A case in point, the weapon powering, and leveling, systems in FF 13. The leveling system was made overly flashy, even though it is just holding a button down so collected xp fills up a circular tower. You occasionally get to go down side routes that lead to 1 or 2 extra nodes, then back on to the main track. The weapon system was worthless for the vast majority of the main game because you didn’t get the needed ingredients for it in useful amounts, or even get access to some things at all, till after the final boss goes down. Both those systems felt like they were not thought through at all, and were lackluster and dull.

    The only FF game i had problems with prior to 10 was 8. It was a good game, interesting, and what not, but the leveling system was crap and played contrary to how the system worked in every game prior. That is why it has such a divisive fan base. Most of us who play FF games like to power up, but that was a detriment in FF 8. Other than that, the game was very interesting, and had a lot of ambience.

    FF 2 and 8 were odd games, but at least 8 was still enjoyable, while part 2 was an odd duckling. The first time i started feeling Squeenix was losing their way with the FF series was when FF 10 came out. It was an interesting game, rather enjoyable, but it started doing things in a very bad manner. Many of the environments were hallway like, probably a precursor to FF 13. The optional content was not made enjoyable, but was instead made to be highly frustrating, to the point that most people can’t get all the ultimate weapons or manage the Calm Lands circus like mini games. Dodging 100 lightning bolts is not something who is right in the head makes a fanbase do. The game did so many awesome things, like the dude who lets you fight super bosses, the 3 sisters summon quest series, and so on. But all of that was dumped for future FF’s.

    FF 12 was an experiment, I feel. I enjoyed the game for what it was, I enjoyed it a lot actually, but it isn’t how I would of wanted the series to continue and I would of tired of it fast. Then FF 13 came into play. It felt like FF lite content wise, and FF overboard story and drama wise.

    What it all boils down to is this. Final Fantasy disease is only a developer and publisher issue, not a fan issue. Fans dish out the cash, they are the ones who made the FF games popular, and when a developer comes out and says the fans are wrong because they liked the past better, he is asking for another FF to bomb for not pleasing those people who are not happy with the current direction of the FF franchise. I don’t an action oriented FF. If I want action, I will go play the other 20 action rpg’s on the market, including Squeenix’s Kingdom hearts 2.8 and Kingdom Hearts 3. I want my interesting power up systems, like FF 7’s materia. I want my moogles, my airships, my chocobo’s, my towns, my shops, my winnable mini games, my interesting, kooky characters who aren’t drowning in teen angst or extreme drama that make them seem like they are ready to slit a wrist.

    And most of all, I don’t want 90 percent of optional stuff locked behind an extra paywall.

    Anyway, I could talk about this all day long, as I was a Square fanboy for 15 years before they merged with Squeenix and became a former shell of who they used to be. Will stop with that.

    • somanyoreos

      I must say, Tiredman. You’re username and your word count don’t exactly see eye-to-eye.

    • Tiredman

      I always scored very high in english on tests like the ACT’s ? Plus, I can be very eloquent when typing on a keyboard but get me talking and I sound somewhat like a country bumpkin.

    • somanyoreos

      You know what? I like you. You’re a swell guy.

    • Tiredman

      =) appreciate that.

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  • Panpopo

    Yeah, I think the main issue is that Final Fantasy is all about nostalgia, and about comparing older games (which everyone has a favorite) with the new. It seems like every new Final Fantasy gets criticism for either its gameplay or story. I remember when Final Fantasy 12 came out, there were many people that disliked it because you can “bot” everything. With the remaster coming out many people are now excited for it – the only thing that has changed is the years that have passed. Granted there were many people that were pleased when it came out, but it did have their detractors.

    It’s extremely possible that a few years down the line that FF13 will be more highly thought of, simply due to the passage of time. Also Sazh is one of the best characters in the series, imo!

  • I have not played FF13, but the gameplay has been generally criticized as weak by many critics, game designers and developers, and consumers. We also know that FF13 had a troubled development and that’s likely the reason why they did not have the time to improve the gameplay.

    Criticizing a game is not “entitlement”. FF13 in terms of gameplay was not only weak compared to other FF games, it was also weak compared to vast majority of RPGs. Change for change’s sake is not a good thing. Change can be an improvement or it can make the game weaker, and it case of FF13 it was the latter.

    Also worthy to note is that FF13 in terms of gameplay was (afaik) mostly reductive. If for instance the towns and airship was gone, but in their place there were new and innovative gameplay features, people wouldn’t have considered it a negative change. Most of the criticism I’ve heard about FF13 is that there simply isn’t much to do in that game.

    • Alexander Jones

      So a couple things…you’re going exclusively on the word of others to make your claims. That’s fine, I guess, but your opinion has absolutely no merit because…you haven’t actually played the game for yourself and have therefore little knowledge of whether or not you might actually disagree with the critics/fans who didn’t like the game! In actuality, the battle system was met with quite a bit of enjoyment by critics. Final Fantasy XIII did have a tremendously troubled development, but it is a prime example of what I would consider “art through adversity.”

      Another thing worth noting is that it’s not the criticism itself that is entitled, it’s the “it’s not good because it’s not what I want/expect” that is…I didn’t necessarily make that 100% clear in my article, but I tried to place it there subtextually. Your own personal desires for a game does not mean it doesn’t have quality/doesn’t have people who find quality in it. That’s where the entitlement comes in.

    • Generally speaking it was considered to be worse than almost all the FFs that had come before it.

      http://www.gamerankings.com/browse.html?site=&cat=0&year=0&numrev=1&sort=0&letter=&search=final+fantasy

      I haven’t played it myself but my argument was based on evidence from elsewhere.

      In your article you made it sound like if one person likes the game no one else should have the right to criticize it, because it would be entitlement. If that wasn’t your intention then I don’t really have any problems with it.

  • CHRIS

    The Final Fantasy Disease is just pure bullshit. Everyone was fine with the franchise before the square-enix merger, the games where selling in the millions, review scores where high. There was barely any quarrel between FF fans. It was only after the merger that they decided to experiment and alienate fans which broke up the fanbases. I think the vast majority of JRPG fans all agree on what FF should all be about. There’s no need to make drastic changes for no good reason. Sure there might be aspects that certain groups like different. But the core template of Final Fantasy should of never been touched. But it is not only the core fundamentals that have been messed with. The quality of the stories have quite clearly fallen due to lack of masterminds like sakagutchi working at SE anymore.

    • Alexander Jones

      I’ve always found it interesting when people blame the merger for the dip in quality, but there are several pre-merge games (VIII and X, for example) that have their fair share of detractors as well, for both story and gameplay reasons.

      I would also posit that the franchise would no longer exist if they had not been making changes regularly. As amazing and quality as Lost Odyssey was, do you hear people regularly bringing that game up? RPGs are all about immersive stories, as well as statistic munching on the gameplay side of things…but with increases in technology, it just becomes more and more apparent that two sets of people are standing around looking at each other and then attacking one at a time. That’s pretty damn immersion-breaking if you ask me.

      And about Sakaguchi…as much respect as I have for that man and his genius work, his most recent games have been F2P or mobile titles. He also was kind of at fault in bankrupting SquareSoft through The Spirits Within…so it’s not like him being gone is the reason the company has “fallen.”

    • CHRIS

      Lost Odyssey was an awesome game and had potential to be made into a franchise of games. One problem though, It was exclusive to Xbox 360. It was literally destined to fail as soon as it was released. So it makes sense why nobody is talking about that game all that much. Might very well have been a different story if it was a PS3 exclusive but oh well. I doubt it would of reached FF levels of popularity but you know people would be talking about it.

      As for Sakaguchi.. well yes, it’s sad to see him wasting away his talents on casual phone based games. I really hope him and his company can get back to making JRPGs again.

  • CHRIS

    Also Tabata is a hypocrite. He says his team and the the fans are nothing special for wanting their own idea of Final Fantasy. But he himself has enforced the idea of modernisation when creating Final Fantasy 15. Modernisation doesn’t come from a growing demand from the fanbases, It comes from the developers need to make more and more money.

    • Alexander Jones

      The statement has to do with people on a team trying to enforce their will over another, instead of coming to decisions collaboratively. Do you really think that Tabata is in complete control of every aspect of the game? There’s a reason games like this are collaborative efforts, through a team. While it is certain that since he is Director, he has the final say and the vision for the whole project, the point he was making was that not compromising on opinions or viewpoints when working on a collaborative product is foolish and reeks of arrogance.