So one of the things I’ve yet to really touch on from E3 is the response to Final Fantasy XV; I’ve seen some pretty interesting arguments from both sides – those that dislike the changes to the franchise and those that like the changes – so I figured I’d throw in my two cents on the matter. Before I begin in full, I’ll just throw out there that I’ve been a long-time fan of the Final Fantasy series having started playing them at around 7 years old; they’ve been a staple brand in my diet of games and one I’ve returned to frequently.
The first big outcry I’ve seen is towards the setting, people saying it doesn’t qualify as kosher Final Fantasy because it’s too dystopian future set. To these people, I am utterly perplexed about the misconceived notions they seem to have of the franchise; while Fantasy might be a touch of a misnomer, the sci-fi setting is very much true to both the brand and a large chunk of the core audience. In fact, technology and its integration with society have always been a big part of the Final Fantasy world – whether they’re using it to deliver some sort of underlying message or whether it’s just a narrative build I couldn’t tell you.
Either way if we look back at Final Fantasy you’ll notice that futuristic dystopias combined with oppressed people in a rural setting is extremely common; from Final Fantasy VI’s impoverished mines, to the slums of Midgar, all the way to the floating football stadium of Zanarkand. It’s taken a stylisation twist on the dystopia to make it less apparent; in the game I’ve just mentioned they use a very cold colour palette to reinforce the idea that there’s an atmosphere of discontent and unhappiness.
Instead Final Fantasy XV is going for an approach more realistic for the narrative and story it’s trying to tell. That doesn’t mean they’re going full on realism with a hard-on for hard shadows and bloom, but rather they’re trying to make a world that feels as though it could be real. That’s by no means a bad thing – RPGs are about role-playing, and part of that is the ability to immerse yourself as the character in a role, in the world they live. They’re just making it easier for people to submerge themselves into their world, by breaking the boundaries of the imagination; this could work for or against them, I don’t really have anything to say imagination or picture perfect is more compelling narratively.
The second gripe I’ve heard is the character designs; by now I’m sure a few fellow internet dwellers have come across the Back Street Boys reproach, or the Gack sensation. I do not believe that this is the cast of characters we’ll have throughout the entire game, I think Square Enix are wiser than to have a solely male cast of characters. I sincerely believe we’re seeing the Final Fantasy VIII landing squad for reference, meaning some of those will be temporary characters lost along the way to make room for female characters.
I’m also suspecting Square to pull something out of the back not dissimilar from Lightning Returns with a variation of clothing for at least Noctis. Seeing the overwhelming popularity being able to dress Lightning up, I’m sure Square won’t pass up the opportunity to monetize on the same mechanic twice by including a Ken-mode for our new protagonist. Even should they decide against this, I’m inclined to believe we’ll see the older days of costume changes for story aspects; hopefully we won’t have to cross dress to infiltrate a pervert’s mansion this time.
Next up on the hit list is the one we’ve all been waiting to discuss, the paradigm shift from pseudo-JRPG (taking on board a conventional sense) in XIII and XIII-2 to an action RPG with XV. I’ve seen plenty of uproar about this, but I’m happy that this is the direction Square have decided to take; after their first MMO (11) debuted and the system was a success, they tried to emulate that play style in a single player game. What we got was Final Fantasy XII, narrative genius with all the game play of a bat with a nail.
This is where the fans of XII and I will typically disagree; I for one see the combat system as an awful blemish on the series. It feels wrong in the way it’s executed, because your party members don’t feel as though they’re acting on their own volition, but you don’t feel like you’re the ultimate puppet master playing chess as you did in earlier entries. This paired with the licensing system made it a trial of tedium as you pushed to unlock new weapons and abilities… it was overall a series of poor design decisions, right down to Balthier having one of the slowest gun animations in the game.
Then along came XIII and we had an eager push for a balance between the faster pace we could get through XII’s combat system (having an AI handler) alongside a more conventional ATB structure. They then paired AI handler with certain job roles to avoid the need to essentially program your own AI, a boon of simplicity for those that disdained the combat of 12. On paper this was probably a fantastic idea, but in execution it became ‘Bumper A/R1 X’ rinse and repeat, leaving us with fast paced but unfulfilling action.
On the other hand we have their sub series, Kingdom Hearts; I’m sure if I were more stoic I’d praise Kingdom Hearts 1’s combat system but I don’t feel up for being scorned and scalded for such claims. What we have seen is an evolution in the combat system over time, something that many Kingdom Hearts fans have grown to adore (particularly in later entries such as Dream Drop Distance). They have a fully functional and engaging combat system sitting right under their noses; if that combat system works then why reinvent the wheel?
Some fans (and at first I was included) felt that this direction shift should’ve been a different IP; it should’ve dropped the Final Fantasy mantle to be picked up by something more conventional to the standards of the series. But as we’ve seen from the Call of Duty naming fiasco (where it was only named Modern Warfare and people didn’t know it was Call of Duty in focus tests) Square know they could lose millions just by changing that title. If they feel they’ve put together an experience worthy of that mantle, then we should have good faith until it’s released – that’s the point we get to moan and rip it apart for terrible clichés. Have a little fayth, and keep some Hope – those are my sentiments exactly.
P.S You have my sincerest apologies for the rampant puns.