OPINION: A Brief Analysis of Final Fantasy Disease

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

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By


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.

Final Fantasy | Final Fantasy VII Remake Cloud and Wedge

I don’t think Cloud wants his remake to play the same, though…

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.
Final Fantasy | Final Fantasy XV

Spelunking Simulator 2016 looks awesome.

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.

Final Fantasy | FFXIII Battle

You’d be surprised how quickly you have to react to such a large, slow monster.

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.]

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.