Monday, June 10, 2013
The Future of Final Fantasy - Speculation
But now E3 is here, and tomorrow morning Square Enix will present their "Future of Final Fantasy" outline. Essentially this will be the largest announcement of Final Fantasy's future ever since E3 2006 when the ill-fated Fabula Novus Crystallis Final Fantasy XIII project was announced. Already we know of "Lightning Returns", and that's perfectly fine you freakish Lightning Saga* fans but definitely not the spark this series needs to restart its fire, several remakes, and a rebuild of "Final Fantasy XIV", which actually looks amazing. That leaves only the next-gen business. Its unknown how many titles this announcement will declare, or just what they will be. But its basically guaranteed at this point that "Versus XIII" will be part of the show, as director Tetsuya Nomura has come to America to show-off something, and he's already cryptically said "I'm pretty sure everybody already knows what's coming". For months now Nomura has been giving vague remarks to the press about how he wants to show off "Versus XIII", but the upper-management won't let him. What does that mean? What has been going on behind the Skunkworks of Square Enix?
E3 right now is already at full burn, with Microsoft having already blasted forward their entire production presentation, and as I write this EA is announcing their various corporate abominations. The new "Metal Gear Solid V" trailer looks fantastic and is reminding me that I really need to play "Revengeance" one of these days. But its the Square Enix conference that I'm aching for. After so many years of disappointment - seven long years since the last great Final Fantasy game was released - SE has to have finally gotten their act together, right? Am I allowed to dream? Yeah, it will probably just be "Versus XIII" announced as "Final Fantasy XV", but will there be more? There are so few times to be excited as a Final Fantasy fan anymore, could this actually pay off?
Final Fantasy Versus XIII
Honestly, there are some out there who think of "Versus XIII" like its the promised Mahdi, returning to redeem the series and purify the universe for the day of judgment with Allah. I am not one of these Square Enix Shia. I just see a Kingdom Hearts game with an intriguing modern-day art design and probably the worst protagonist design the series has ever had. But whatever. Its not a Lightning game, so steadily I've become a major supporter of this thing. Since basically at this points its either "Versus XIII" or "Lightning Returns". And I'll be damned if I ever buy another Motomu Toriyama game without the sure knowledge that it is a used copy and none of my money will ever line Square Enix's pocket. "Versus XIII", mostly by default, has become the most exciting title that this company has lined up.
To be more positive, Tetsuya Nomura and the rest of the Square Enix staff have been deeply hyping this game for years now - mostly because it doesn't look like they have any other choice. I'm not really sure what in God's name is taking an action RPG so long to be produced, but one could hope that its the simple fact of the overwhelming ambition behind the game's concept and design. "Final Fantasy XII" took six or seven years to be completed, and it is still one of the best things Square Enix has ever made, even after it was a deeply compromised title that did not even reach director Yasumi Matsuno's full vision**. The graphics, from what I've seen, are top-notch, surpassing even "Final Fantasy XIII", so this could easily become a PlayStation 4 title.
One problem though is that long development times do not necessarily equal into quality. One can imagine "Versus XIII" as this unmatchable cathedral of a game that required centuries of effort to finally match the monumental genius behind its vision, but I have my doubts. "Final Fantasy XIII" had the longest or second-longest development of any Square Enix video game, and its level design is painfully lazy and down-right pathetic***, to say nothing of the severe austerity of the rest of it. FFXIII was a game designed without a vision, without a concept, and without a goal, leading to millions being wasted in an endless merry-go-round of talented programmers wasting years in confusion, until finally the deadline hit and they threw together everything they had, rather desperately. Say what you will about the ultimate incompetence of Motomu Toriyama, but its hard to be inspired by seven or eight years of stalling from the same company.
But really, the most exciting part about "Versus XIII" being finished is that it means that Tetsuya Nomura and his team can finally GET AROUND TO MAKING "KINGDOM HEARTS III". Jesus, its been a long wait for that game.
The second most-likely possibility is that the game SE has in mind is a game based off of their tech demo from 2012, "Agni's Philosophy", which was meant to show off the graphical power of their new engine. It makes little sense to me to spend years with a team designing characters, environments, and even a vague sense of a plot just to show what a next gen Final Fantasy might be. Then throw all of that out and start all over again with something entirely different. Its like a novelist writing a chapter to a book just to show that he could write a book, then abandoning that concept to write a different book. The idea was to show off their graphical power, which makes little sense since SE keeps their engines in-house, and honestly, nobody really cares about engines besides a very select slice of nerds. Maybe it was for the stock holders, who are probably feeling just as nervous as the fanbase these days.
Many years ago, Square Enix infamously showed off a PS3 recreation of the opening of "Final Fantasy VII", leading to half a decade of forlorn fan sighs to see that title remade on that generation of hardware. Perhaps it was not a financial mistake, but it certainly added to the overall sense that SE simply doesn't care what its fans want, and will dangle ripe fruit in front of our faces in order to bait us into eating rotten wrinkly carcasses like FFXIII. I'll be the first one to say, Square Enix should never ever remake "Final Fantasy VII", or else they'll completely destroy the myth of that game, and in turn slaughter the allure of the entire Final Fantasy brand. The point is, tech demos don't mean anything. Luckily there do not appear to be many rabid Agni's Philosophy fans out there - since there are no characters and the demo wasn't half as incredible as say, the tech demo for "Kara" - so SE could safely ignore this title without a single loss.
However, "Agni's Philosophy" does seem to have quite a bit going for it. Its grungy and dark, featuring characters who aren't perfect anime porcelain dolls like most of their PS3 creations. They've actually dared attempt to create a more mature Final Fantasy, like Nomura has promised "Versus XIII" might be, but so far has given no evidence to support. It would be a waste to give up on the possibilities of Agni's Philosophy to just go ahead and make another immature teenager's adventure like FFXIII or XIII-2. If there is a PS4 version of Vanille that's being imagined on some conceptual artist's canvas right now, Final Fantasy is already doomed.
Something Entirely New
Square Enix still is a company with a huge imagination, full of talented people. Older Final Fantasy games seemed to suffer from a glut of talent, "Final Fantasy VIII" and "Chrono Cross" have so many ideas floating around within them that they hardly make any sense. Its been so long since we've seen an entirely new Final Fantasy game, I've forgotten the feeling of seeing a new title. I'd almost be disappointed if Square Enix were simply to announce "Versus XIII" as "Final Fantasy XV" and gleefully return to Japan.
One of the most exciting things going on at Square Enix right is - shockingly - "Final Fantasy XIV". This is a game which shows deep respect to the Final Fantasy roots, featuring classic Job Classes, classic summons, and even Magitek Armors. Artistically, this is everything I've ever wanted from a new Final Fantasy game. Which makes it something of a tragedy that its being used for an MMO, a type of game I never really want to play. Could we possibly get something like that, only single-player, as "Final Fantasy XV"?
The meaning behind Final Fantasy is unlimited imagination. The series has stagnated in recent years not because of any particular mistake in any particular game, it wasn't because of DLC or Paradigm Shifts or linear corridors. Its because they've been making the same games over and over again with the same characters. Even fans of FFXIII probably didn't want three whole games. There's so much possibility behind Final Fantasy, why should we bottle under a single Fabula Novus Crystallus brand? Why can't we move on? Unleash that fire, make something new, something exciting again.
One can dream. One can dream.
* Me and Stephenie Meyer have had this out for years now, but nothing about the three Final Fantasy XIII games have been a saga. They also don't particularly have that much to do with Lightning specifically, as she's not even the most important character in the games so far. And as a trilogy, they're terribly disjointed, confusing, and poorly-made.
** Matsuno, infamously, was fired during production and replaced by Hiroyuki Ito. I don't really know how different the finished FFXII was to Matsuno's vision, but I do know several game concepts were lost. Matsuno wanted the player to be able to recruit NPCs in towns as guest party members as a major focus, this barely appears as an afterthought in a couple of Hunts. The hero of the game was also replaced twice, going from Balthier to Basch to finally Vaan to appeal to Japanese focus groups, proving forever that the Japanese should never be polled about anything ever again. (And ironically, Balthier is still the most important and memorable male character, and the real main character is none of those people, its Princess Ashe.)
*** I'm actually playing it now, except a review in the next week or so.