Square Enix’s Final Fantasy franchise has been stuttering lately. With the release of Final Fantasy XIII, Square came under fire for the game’s extremely linear first half. The game’s story was also decried as overly convoluted, with most of the characters being annoying to the average gamer. These are huge accusations when you consider that they are being leveled against the developer who used to be the king of JRPGs. I believe that there are two major components that Square needs to get right in order to create their next blockbuster Final Fantasy title: story and gameplay.
Final Fantasy VII and X stand out to me as game’s with fantastic stories and memorable characters. I will never forget Sephiroth as a villain, nor will I ever lose the memory of playing Blitzball while a giant monster ravages the city. The stories are what make or break a Final Fantasy game, and if Square wants to get back on top, they need to craft one of their best stories for Final Fantasy XV. The story of Final Fantasy VII involved a government organization who wrongly tapped into the earth for its energy, while Final Fantasy X centered around a young man’s struggle against his father in a mystical land while he accompanies a summoner on her pilgrimage. While these are two very different stories, they each include something extremely important to telling a good story: memorable characters. Cloud, the protagonist in FFVII, is a nuanced character with a past that he cannot remember. FFVII took the amnesia trope that was all too common in JRPGs at the time and spun it around, telling a tale of loss and suffering that struck a lot of chords in the fanbase. On the other hand, the protagonist of FFX, Tidus, was a more lighthearted and outspoken protagonist, letting everyone know how he feels about a certain situation. Although some fans found him annoying, even more thought of him as a better protagonist than Cloud, as the issues he faced with his father are easier to relate to instead of a mega corporation taking over the world. Lightning, the main character of FFXIII, is also fondly looked upon as a great protagonist, as she is bold, strong, and brave. Unfortunately, the focus of the story is too jumbled around to completely use her character to its fullest.
In Final Fantasy XV, Square has the difficult task of creating a compelling protagonist and using them to tell an even more compelling story. In Agni’s Philosophy, the next-gen demo that Square showed at the PS4 reveal, an enticing location was shown along with an unknown cast of of magic-wielding characters that definitely excited players. Final Fantasy Versus XIII, one of Square’s frequently delayed titles, also serves as a good example for an intriguing story. The trailers shown for Versus XIII strike me to be in the same vein as FFVII instead of more fantasy-focused. In fact, some rumors even suspect that Final Fantasy Versus XIII will be rebranded as Final Fantasy XV due to the fact that most of its ties with the “XIII” series have been cut. Either way, I still have faith in Square to craft a compelling tale with memorable characters, they just really have to try.
While FFVII and FFX had fantastic stories, their gameplay was normal of JRPGs at the time. Turn-based combat with abilities and Limit Breaks, although Final Fantasy X introduced the Sphere Grid, which was a huge innovation for the series. Each single-player installment after it has included a different type of Sphere Grid. FFXII had the License Board, while XIII has the Crystarium. Each of these allowed you to more or less chooses what ability your characters learned, although XIII’s iteration was very linear. I believe that Final Fantasy XV should also have its own version focused around the concept of the story.
Another gameplay feature I would like to see in FFXV is the kind of world map featured in FFXII. For those that do not know, Final Fantasy XII is the closest thing you can get to an MMO without actually be an MMO. The world was absolutely huge, and fast playthroughs of the game still took around 80 hours. The story is also somewhat convoluted, but the game more than makes up for it with it plethora of content. The actual combat in FFXII is lacking however, in the sense that you actually do not get a ton of control over it. Instead, I think the combat should borrow from what we’ve seen of Versus XIII and Lightning Returns as well as the fast, unrestricted combat as seen in Kingdom Hearts. You could still give the player control over what abilities they have equipped to which character, but allow the player to run around a field during battle, in the same sense as the Star Ocean games. FFXII is often looked upon as the downfall of the Final Fantasy series, but I believe it was almost the peak. The game’s story isn’t as memorable to me as VII’s or X’s was, but the game is the funnest I have had in a Final Fantasy game to this day.
I believe that if Square can mix the masterful storytelling of Final Fantasy VII and X with the enticing gameplay and world of XII, their next major installment can cement Final Fantasy back on top of the RPG genre. What do you think? What would you like to see in the next major installment in the Final fantasy series that you miss from recent installments, or have never been included? Let us know below!