I am, and probably always will be, a die-hard Final Fantasy fan. I cut my RPG teeth on the earlier entries, and my love for the franchise has even soldiered me through the less-than-stellar recent entries. I refuse to give up hope, however, and I really believe that the Final Fantasy series can be brought back to the forefront of RPG relevance. Here are five ways I think can help accomplish that.
Retain the Combat and Leveling systems: Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2 may not have hit all the right notes, but it definitely nailed the combat. As such, I wouldn’t want them to change it up too much. We need to face facts; as much as we all loved the feel of old-school turn based battles, the downtime between actions would be too much by today’s standards. Square Enix has some incredible graphical prowess, and they are right to take advantage of that. The kinetic and frenzied battles of XIII expertly took elements from past installments while still advancing the formula. Retaining things like the ATB system, summons and turn queue helped retain the familiarity of the series for veterans, and I loved the implementations of health regeneration after battle and the removal of MP.
Leveling was another aspect that was handled well, but at this point it’s getting pretty tough to screwup a leveling system. The Chrystarium was a visually attractive and addicting way to enhance your character, and I appreciated the way it was gathered (even by party members not currently fighting) and distributed easily. I would like to see a little less linearity in the paths, but overall they have found a good balance between the combat and leveling aspects of a good RPG.
Create a first-class antagonist: Personally, this was my biggest problem with the most recent Final Fantasies. Entries like VI and VII are considered legends for many reasons, and one of the biggest ones is the exceptional bad guys they created. Kefka and Sephiroth are guys you want to chase down and beat up. Who was the bad guy in XIII? I don’t even remember. Hope, in my mind. I hated that kid. We need somebody with some substance.
The more emotionally invested you are in defeating the antagonist, the more likely you are to finish the game. It’s that simple. Of course we all want to save the world, but it was moments like Sephiroth killing Aeris, or Kefka poisoning the town of Doma, that made it truly personal. Not every plot these days has to be spunky and upbeat, Square Enix, a little drama could go a long way here. I would much rather chase down the evil sorcerer who killed my family than seek vauge revenge on a fal ‘Cie. Whatever that is.
Keep the plot simple: Speaking of word’s I’m not sure I’m pronouncing right, what was going on with all the absurd terms Final Fantasy XIII threw around with reckless abandon. Too many ‘Cies, not enough things I care about. If you are listening to my advice Square, you will already have a good bad guy to focus on. Side-quests are great and all (and necessary!), but let’s keep the focus on the events at hand. One of Final Fantasy XIIIs biggest problems was that it hardly ever actually moved the plot along. There didn’t appear to be an end-game, just a whole lot of character development. That’s fine and dandy as long as it is used right, and provided I actually care about the characters. Lightning, Sazh and Fang were cool; Hope and Snow not so much.
Let’s see some concepts that we actually understand make it into the next entry, huh? War, political strife, love, betrayal; these are tenets that everybody can relate to, at least on an imaginative level. I’m not saying make it brainless. Weave the web as deep as you want, but base it on cornerstones I, as an RPG gamer, can understand, relate to, and grow to love. Or just remake VII.
Go old school with the setting: This is just a personal request, but I think the whole uber-futuristic tone is having an adverse effect on Final Fantasy’s growth. They can seem to help themselves, because each successive entry has seen the worlds grow more and more ridiculous. Skyrim is just one example that a “past” setting can be just as beautiful and engaging as Super Future City. At least, I think that was the name of the city in XIII. Either way, I was too busy experiencing sensory overload and possibly synaesthesia from all the bright colors and impractical designs to truly appreciate what was going on around me.
I think less really could be more here. Remember Final Fantasy X’s forest? It was held to some basic elements, but was beautifully realized. I’m not sure if I saw a single tree until twelve hours into XIII. Things picked up a bit when you got to Pulse, and I would like to see that art direction continued. Seeing the massive monsters roaming around the plains game me chills the first time, and that kind of grandiosity is even better when the elements around it retain an air of simplicity.
Give us a world map to explore: What I wouldn’t give to explore a world map via airship in gorgeous HD. I understand that it would probably be very difficult to do that, but it would be so sweet. Just imagining a giant, secret-filled landscape just brimming with full 3D potential, featuring Square’s signature breathtaking graphics makes me want to make the game myself. I understand this is a very unlikely wish, but that is my final fantasy…of this article. I hate me.