The Decline of Final Fantasy Part III: Can Final Fantasy Return to Glory?
If you tuned in to Part I and Part II of this series, you may (and should) be asking, “So what’s your solution for fixing Final Fantasy’s issues?” In the final part of this series, we will attempt to answer just that. Namely, there are two titles we will look at: Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy XV. Given that it’s a bit speculative and controversial, we will look at VII first.
To say there is demand for a HD remake of Final Fantasy VII would be perhaps the greatest understatement in the realm of gaming. Since Square Enix (perhaps unwisely) chose the opening scene of their magnum opus to display the technical prowess of the PlayStation 3, fan speculation and outcry for a remake of VII has been extremely high. The Compilation of Final Fantasy VII likely only fueled this, and led many to believe a remake was in fact on the horizon.
Oh, how Square Enix loves to tease its fans. To be clear, I’m neither a huge advocate nor an adamant naysayer regarding a VII remake. I could easily see how it would be the greatest thing ever and how Square Enix could totally botch it. What I do know is that Square Enix needs this remake now more than ever. As I opined in Part I, I don’t feel Square Enix is in dire trouble just yet, but that doesn’t mean they’re not in any trouble.
Look at all the problems that have stigmatized Square Enix in the past couple of years. Tomb Raider failed to meet their financial expectations and didn’t turn a profit until the tail end of 2013. Final Fantasy XIV bombed so hard that they had to recall, revamp, and re-release the entire game. Their president, Yoichi Wada, also resigned brusquely and the company subsequently announced an entire restructuring, with a new emphasis on the mobile market.
Add to that the problems surrounding Final Fantasy. Aside from XIV, the XIII saga was divisive (if profitable), XV has been in development so long many speculated it had become vaporware and was quietly canceled, Final Fantasy Type-0, which looked to be an intriguing PlayStation Portable title, never made it out of Japan, and the increasing number of mobile titles in the franchise have had varying degrees of reception. Love the franchise’s new direction or hate it, there’s little denying Square Enix needs something more successful, both financially and critically. (The latter might not seem so important, but it’s integral to keep your consumer base intact.)
By remaking VII like fans have been asking for nearly a decade now, Square Enix would be showing that they listen to and care about the opinions of their fans, as well as probably making a load of money. Does that mean VII is the best way to go? I don’t think so. While it would be great to see a remake, it’s completely conceivable that they would do a half-assed job like they did with the Compilation. Series producer (and director of the original VII) Yoshinori Kitase has assured fans if he undertakes this project, it will have to be the biggest project he’s ever done (like, ten years’ development time long), so hopefully I’m wrong here.
A bigger concern—and one not so easily laid to rest—concerns the Compilation at large. Seeing as how Square Enix couldn’t stick to the original story with all the others titles, I fear they would alter plot elements in VII to render it more consistent with their newer vision. I could see things like altering Cloud’s personality to make him more mopey like he is in Advent Children and Dissidia Final Fantasy or throwing in some Genesis references. Really, the only thing I would care to see changed is Zack’s death scene. It was pretty lame in the original game and, though overstated in Crisis Core, was much more fitting for a SOLDIER 1st Class than being picked off by two grunts like some chump.
Now, I could see diehard Final Fantasy VII fans being irate at anything other than a frame-by-frame HD remaster, but some changes are obvious if Square Enix wishes to appeal to a younger market. Things like voice acting (which would effectively fix the awful translation) and probably a change in camera perspective would be in order. Maybe the biggest concern in this department is the battle system. Given Square Enix’s penchant for making combat more action-oriented, they may seek to mix up VII’s battle system. Most fans I’ve spoken with are directly opposed to that.
As you can see, a VII remake is a whirlwind of pros and cons. Personally, my guess is that if they decide to do it, they’ll announce it as a celebration of the 20th anniversary of VII in 2017. Seeing as how they said they aren’t finished with the Compilation yet, this could mark a fitting conclusion.
All in all, though, I will place my hope more on Final Fantasy XV to reignite the franchise’s waning popularity. From what little has been revealed, it looks as though XV will retain a lot of the spirit of the franchise while keeping some of the western flavor it has attempted with more recent titles. Where Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII seemed to miss the mark on the open world/exploration elements, XV looks to be taking care to refine that into a much more enjoyable experience.
As always, one of the two the most important things for me in any Final Fantasy game is plot, setting, characterization, etc., and XV so far doesn’t look to disappoint in that department. The cast thus far piques my interest, and the plot sounds like the best Square Enix has conceived since at least X. Best of all, the setting is unique to Final Fantasy and appears to feature a healthy synthesis of more traditional fantasy elements and a stunning modern world. Without a doubt, this is the most appealing aspect of XV to me thus far.
Alas, the long-awaited title brings its own share of concerns. First and foremost, the development cycle has been long. By the time the game releases, it will have been in development for almost a decade. This could result in the game being outdated, in terms of graphics and, even worse, gameplay mechanics. Heck, look what happened to Duke Nukem Forever!
Another cause for concern—the second of the two most important things—is the battle system. Like the XIII saga and Crisis Core/Dirge of Cerberus before it, XV is aiming to blend action with RPG. Reportedly, it will also incorporate some mild FPS functions. This could either be great or terrible. The most enjoyable thing in the XIII saga was combat, so I may be surprised, but with such ambitious goals I’m worried it may turn out for the worse.
While I previously mentioned excitement over the plot, I should also express a concern about the plot. Game director Tetsuya Nomura has revealed that much of the dialogue will take place in real-time (think Call of Duty), meaning fewer cut-scenes and FMVs. Some may be relieved by this, but I find it troubling. Typically in games where I maintain control over the player character while dialogue is occurring, I pay less attention to what is being said. Consequently, I end up missing those key details. That is the last thing I want in a Final Fantasy game. If nothing else, it de-emphasizes the plot.
Furthermore, I question how certain plot elements will fit into the rechristened XV. Most everyone probably remembers that the game was initially branded Final Fantasy Versus XIII and was an installment in Fabula Nova Crystallis. Most notably, a scene featuring a discussion between protagonists Noctis and Stella made mention of the goddess Etro, and by the sound of it, she played a central role in the plot. Seeing how the XIII saga handled Etro and the game’s rebranding, I can’t help but wonder what, if any, part the Fabula Nova Crystallis plot points will play in XV and how those changes (if there are any) will affect the plot.
All in all, I’m still confident if we are going to see all of Final Fantasy fandom reunited in agreement and harmony, it will be with XV and possibly a VII remake, should it come to pass. Seeing the way things are going now, my money is on XV. But the real question, whether Square Enix and Final Fantasy will remain a force in the industry or, like the Warriors of Light in the original Final Fantasy, fade into mythical legend, is as yet unanswered.