Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Which will really be the FINAL Fantasy?

I've been a gamer for many years now, and it seems that every year there are at least 3 Final Fantasy games being released.
I never really played much of the series myself... By the time I had discovered Japanese RPGs, my sister was still not a teenager, and rated "T" games were not allowed in the house.

Just for the record...

Over the years I have played:
- FFX-2, which I gave up on. I had reached the last boss on the first playthrough and was unable to beat it, so to avoid the levelgrind, I just started over. This time I aimed for 100% completion, and even printed out a 25 page guide on how to do it. I had gotten maybe about half way through it when I found myself stuck, unable to start the next mission. Discouraged and wondering what prerequisite I missed, I just decided to forget it and play something else.
- FFTA, which I beat twice. I loved this game so much that I even bought the soundtrack, which I was pleased to find that it included two disks... one with the original GameBoy Advance tunes, and the other one with all of the songs played by an orchestra. Though the plotline was slightly cheesey, I really loved the different races.
- FFTA2, which I bought thinking I'd be getting the old FFTA experience from, but even better. Unfortunately, adding new races, jobs, and missions didn't make it better, but instead made it nothing less than drudgery. The new classes weren't unique at all, and rather did the same things that a different class could do... aside from being exclusive to one race, that is. Doing so many missions made me forget what the heck was going on in the main plotline. When you play a game and not know why exactly you're playing it, that becomes a problem. After investing countless hours into it, I put it down for good, not knowing how far I actually got.
-FFXII, which I couldn't resist buying since they were using the races from FFTA. To my disappointment, you couldn't recruit my favorite race, which was a letdown. What was even worse was dealing with the androgynous main character, the stuck-up princess, the self-righteous knight, and the little whiny girl tag-along. The only two good characters, which I assumed were a couple, apparently weren't a couple at all. Once again, I lost track of the storyline among a flurry of fancy-sounding city names and characters. All I knew was that it had something to do with a crystal and a feud between monarchies... or something like that. Needless to say, the monotony of the battle system and losing the plot made me give up.
- And finally, FFXI. This game was the toughest, most time-consuming, group-driven, involving, life-like, and atmospheric game I have ever played... and I loved it. After playing it on and off for years, I eventually decided that the lack of soloing was too annoying to deal with, and quit, for what I expect to be forever. This game was the closest you could get to living a whole different life. The races had their own culture, architecture, government, and capital... even the enemy races. It saddens me to think that the servers will close down within the next few years.

But back to what I was saying...

Whether it's the main numbered series, a remake, or a spin-off, Final Fantasy games are constantly being produced, and has become a highly recognized brand name in the world of gaming.
It's definitely become a household name, like Mario, Pokemon, and Legend of Zelda.
The only problem is that the longer you continue a series, the bigger the risk you take in producing the games, both financially and reception-wise.
For instance, it's almost certain that the Zelda series will ever see a perfect score like The Ocarina of Time.
Mario keeps on thriving, having enough good games with some okay games in between. Either way, it's enough to keep the trust of the public, especially since the series is appealing to all ages.
Crash Bandicoot and Spyro both enjoyed their reign in the 1990's, but have subsequently faded into nostalgic obscurity, prompting a largely unsuccessful "re-imagining" of the series, much to the dislike of original fans.
Sonic the Hedgehog has had his name dragged through the mud countless times in the form of embarrassingly awful games over the years, though the kids seem to keep gobbling it up. (Read my previous blog post critiquing the Sonic series)

So the question is... When will we see the last Final Fantasy?
Is it time for Final Fantasy to throw in the towel?
I believe it most definitely is time, and it needs to be done NOW, before Square-Enix loses what little reputation it has left.

I understand that my statement is a bit harsh, but let's start with FFXIII.
Despite my confusion and general apathy towards completing FFXII, many played it through and liked it. It received an average rating of about 90%, leading many fans to excitedly await the release of the next installment of the series.
How did die-hard fans react to the new game?
I believe VGCats explains it best in this comic... which may be offensive to some viewers.
Of course, Japanese players gushed over the game, but seeing their love for everything overly dramatic and over-the-top, it's not very surprising. (One word... anime.)

Then there was FFXIV, the much awaited "sequel-in-spirit" of FFXI.
I was extremely excited about this game, seeing how enjoyable my experience with FFXI was.
The public reaction to this game, however, cannot be disputed... It downright sucked.
So much so, that once the ratings average of "4.0/10.0" were released by critics, Square-Enix's stock plummeted.
You know your game is bad when...
Rather than immediately admit the game's shortcomings, Square-Enix plead with the public and critic sites to not review the game until it has been out for three to four weeks. Obviously this was the critic's fault, not the game's, right?

As weeks passed after the release date, more problems reared their ugly heads.
The crafting, the traveling, the unnecessary menus, repetitive quests, slow leveling... everything was one disappointment after another.
The worst, and most inexcusable in my own opinion, was this:

Obviously, not even the developers were excited about this game, so they decided to copy and paste the terrain over and over again.
For a company that prided themselves in releasing a "next-gen" MMO in terms of graphics, this is beyond comprehension.

Need more to understand the full scope of awfulness?
Then watch this:

If straight up ranting and swearing is your style, there is an article up on Encyclopedia Dramatica.
Just as a warning though, it is DEFINITELY NSFW, like everything else on ED.

To make a long list of reasons why this game was a complete trainwreck short...
Only about 32,000 people play as of 11/3/10.

Obviously, Square-Enix has to try really hard to gain back their reputation.
But wait! What's this?
Square-Enix just registered a trademark for a new game!
And it's... oh, look. Another Final Fantasy spin-off.
Who could have guessed?

Honestly, it's about time the Final Fantasy name is retired.
They've had a good, long run, right? (Note the "Next Page" button at the bottom of the list...)
Their famed and much cherished composer quit the company... Oh wait, make that two... no, three composers in total.
Like said before, the future of their stock price is in cahoots...
Generally, things aren't going too well for them as a whole.
Even if they decide not to call it quits and work on other series, they could try to salvage the Final Fantasy name.

For example, they could stop making androgynous main characters that nobody really connects to.
They could start incorporating other ethnicities in the series to broaden its appeal... you know, without making them look like complete racial stereotypes.
They could make their plotlines less hectic and less full of indecipherable jargon and complicated names. (I played that game, and that summary still means absolutely nothing to me than a bunch of big words.)
You know what would also be an amazing idea? They could start listening to player feedback! (See above critiques of FFXIV for details.)

There are countless things they could do to save their company, or maybe even the Final Fantasy brand in general.
Perhaps the huge dent in their pockets from FFXIV, and knowing five whole years of game development have all been a waste will convince them...
Or perhaps their big egos will get the better of them, and we'll see them fall to the depths of videogame hell... the bargain bin.