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.
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.)
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.”
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…