The Personal Growth of Hironobu Sakaguchi
I wanted to save discussing the most recently released JRPG in America for last. It’s one we all hold dear. Mere days before XSEED released The Last Story into the wild, I saw the credits roll for Final Fantasy IX, some twelve years too late. I’d played the game back in 2000, of course, but a rather mean disc-freeze dreadfully close to the end of the third disc prevented me from ever finishing it. I put it off, but our Top 10 PSOne Games list inspired me to grab this classic from PSN. And I’m truly glad I did. As it turns out, FFIX is virtually the perfect precursor to the game many of us experienced for the first time this past week.
Both games offer plenty of clichés (like the typical princess in disguise / “caged canary” character), and many reviewers would see these types of things as deterrents. I’m cut from a different cloth than the folks from Destructoid or Game Informer, however. I think if you take a bunch of clichés and wrap them inside a game that truly brings its characters and environments to life, these archetypal roles can break free from the chains of commonality.
Final Fantasy IX accomplishes this through the masterful artwork of Yoshitaka Amano. The storyline has its moments (especially as you get near the end) and Uematsu delivers as usual, but I don’t think this game would have the gusto it does if any other person designed it. Even clichéd characters and events can be given new life through powerful presentation. I consider FFIX to be “the last great Final Fantasy” because despite its handful of clichés and flaws, it offered much of what made JRPGs of its time great, as well as attempting to evolve conventional formulas (the Ability System comes to mind).
The Last Story accomplishes the same through the conversations that take place as characters move through the world. As much as Sakaguchi’s latest work doesn’t offer a particularly ground-breaking, life-changing story, its cast is given new life because of how they interact with the player as s/he explores the world. I consider Sakaguchi’s latest game another stepping stone in the continued evolution of the genre I love, but The Last Story doesn’t feel as personal to me because of the very things that make it unique. It’s not my story, after all…it’s Zael’s.
The End of an Era
I don’t necessarily wish I could go back to the way things were. Games like Radiant Historia and Xenoblade Chronicles have proven to me that not all good ideas are gone, and that growth is truly healthy for the games I love. What I do wish, however, is that a larger number of my peers could learn to embrace the past in order to realize what makes games like Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower truly magical.
I know, to a certain extent, most RPGs cannot be “my personal journey” anymore. But you can all consider this my personal testimony: every RPG I’ve played through in the past contains a piece of who I am. The greatest RPGs offer a sense of personal growth to correlate with character growth.
I know things aren’t what they used to be. But as long as Operation Rainfall continues to support games, developers, and publishers that both know their roots and aren’t afraid to be inventive—I may yet be satisfied with what’s to come.