By Alexander Jones / June 7th, 2016
Final Fantasy disease has another problem that has plagued other series that have remained unchanging over the years: stagnation. How many times can you play a game that is Final Fantasy VII just with a different story? Certainly the Materia system is fun to mess around with, but that game is very glitchy and exploitable today. Simply a cursory look online will lead you to explanations on how broken some of the mechanics in that game are, as well as in other early games in the series. Still, you could argue, even if the mechanics stayed the same, you would still have a different game, better graphics, etc., and just the core gameplay would stay the same, a la the Souls games. This would allow the series to stay fresh, but keep its familiarity.
But I think there is a large oversight here. Final Fantasy has always been shaking up the formula:
- II added a new leveling mechanic based on weapon/magic usage, not on experience points
- III introduced a job class system, letting characters change classes in the middle of the game
- IV introduced the Active Time Battle system and put an increased emphasis on the narrative of the game, more than any of the others
- V brought back the job system, but made it far more expansive and complicated. This is still probably the FF with the most technical focus.
- VI offered a branching, character-focused narrative with an episodic nature and various new leveling/magic systems
- VII introduced the Materia system for using magic and special attacks, was the first 3D game in the series, the first to feature pre-rendered cutscenes, and allowed characters to be customized and “become” any class
- VIII utilized the Junction system, featured realistic character models, and pinpointed the focus specifically on a love story
- IX was a throwback, celebrating the older games in the series while still adding new elements like the ability and equipment systems and Active Time Events.
- X introduced voice acting, fully rendered environments, the Sphere Grid leveling system, and ditched the ATB bar for a simpler system. Also utilized Quick-time events for the first time, and minimized world map usage to focus on the story.
- XI was the first online game in the series and predates World of Warcraft; it was most unlike every other game in the series as it was a MMO, so it changed genres. It also eliminated random encounters
- XII was set in Ivalice, like the Tactics games, and featured a battle system much like a MMORPG. Battles take place in real time, though still menu-based, and all sorts of mechanics like Quickenings, Gambits, etc. were introduced, completely setting this one apart from previous installments.
- XIII disposed of towns and shops to make a very focused character drama on six fugitives. The battle system acted as a blend of real time and turn based combat and focused on spectacle and quick reaction times in addition to strategy and planning.
- XIV was another MMO, but since its failed initial launch has been constantly improving and evolving through updates, expansions, and additional content.
- XV seeks to totally switch things up again by returning to real time combat, but this time in a more Kingdom Hearts style. A huge open world, four male main characters, and a realistic-yet-still-fantastic setting seek to set this entry apart yet again.
Change has always been a part of Final Fantasy. In fact, the only elements that have stayed relatively the same are summons, crystals of some sort, chocobos, and magic. I think people tend to forget that much of the time the battle systems and mechanics in these games stuck around for years due to the technical limitations on the hardware they were developed on. It was not because the developers simply stuck with what worked; they clearly strove to make each game different in some way, even in the early years. Turn-based battles were simply a necessity, and tons of RPGs had those elements for the same reason. But Final Fantasy wanted to set itself apart, and it did so through its themes, stories, and its continual willingness to innovate.
Additionally, many of the mechanics and differences in systems were changed to support the story, which is what has generally been the main emphasis of Final Fantasy, as well as most RPGs. Though perhaps not directly integrated, there are definite “mechanics as metaphor” in play in the Final Fantasy games. In XIII, for example, the emphasis on reactive, quick impulse battles and lack of towns and a world map continually reinforces the urgency of the protagonists’ plight, and the sadness and loneliness of their situation, which they all react to differently.
So yes, Final Fantasy disease is real, and we all definitely do try to assert what our own view of Final Fantasy is over others. As much as I too want another experience like Final Fantasy VI, VII, or XIII, I realize that the series is ever-changing, whether it be good or bad. Not every decision Square Enix (and formerly SquareSoft) made in the past has been good. Some of their changes have not always worked, or haven’t been received well, but I can’t fault them for wanting to try something new with every entry. They can make whatever type of game they want and reap the consequences for that experimental mindset. I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way as they’ve delivered some amazing experiences over the years due to this willingness to experiment. Change isn’t always a bad thing. And hey, if you’re not into it…there’s always Bravely Default and the upcoming I Am Setsuna to turn back to.
[Quotes obtained via Gamespot.]
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