Originally published at: https://www.gamespew.com/2016/04/the-fall-and-rise-of-final-fantasy/
It’s a series that’s been ongoing since 1987, so with the announcement and demo release of Final Fantasy XV this month, I thought I’d take a look back on what made the games great, and what didn’t.
Years ago, when my Dad bought me a PlayStation One out of the blue and I was just hitting my stride in the gamer sphere, I discovered a game called Final Fantasy VII. I’d never seen a box cover like it; with its intricate blue logo I found myself drawn to it. It had three discs, and to an eight year old that was mental – but it didn’t manage to put me off and I was hooked from the get go.
The whole essence of the game hinged on its lovable characters like Cloud, Red and Aerith, coupled with evil antagonist Sephiroph, its unusual setting of Gaia, and the weird and wonderful story line of a rebel organisation of eco-terrorists attempting to save the world. In short, the game was genius.
Way beyond its years in the essential turn-based combat system, Final Fantasy VII brought kids of the nineties a new expectation for games. The story was so in-depth that we all fell in love with the characters and felt an actual, real world connection with them. It was the first game I truly became engrossed in.
Final Fantasy VIII was much of the same. Due to the critical success of VII, Square Enix added a magic element to the game, but otherwise it was almost consistently the same. Again, the characters were imaginative and interesting, the storyline was unusual and the score was beautiful. Final Fantasy VII players, I assume, were chuffed to bits that their favourite game had returned with better graphics and some new faces – but by the time Final Fantasy IX rolled around, it was all starting to change.
Released only a year after FFVIII came out, IX yet again clung to its traditional turn-based combat rigmarole. The problem was that by now, times were changing, new technology was being produced and new generation games were increasingly advancing, but Final Fantasy seemed stuck in the past. But, we gritted our teeth and gave it a chance. It was still a great game, don’t get me wrong; it just seemed like Square were too scared to change anything after FFVII… and then they confirmed it with the PS3 release of Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2.
After the endless stream of FFX, FFX-2, FFXI and FFXII, this time round Square decided to include a female protagonist; Lightning, perhaps in the hopes it would distract players from the shoddy gameplay. The game was more three-dimensional this time, though, and it felt more like a first person RPG.
However, Final Fantasy XIII couldn’t completely detract from the fact that in 15 years, Square were essentially flogging a dead horse. The games’ sale figures weren’t bad, but maybe that was from all the desperate, loyal fans wanted to recreate the sensation they felt years ago when picking up VII or VII for the first time. It never quite lived up, and though I stuck with most of XIII and XIII-2, I gave up after that. That was it; I just stopped playing Final Fantasy games. I didn’t buy another one and got rid of all my others except for my precious VII, which I still replay.
I thought all hope was lost, but then I saw the announcement all over social media: Final Fantasy XV to be released in September. I groaned. But my curiosity got the better of me; I watched the trailer, and to my surprise it actually looked great. I delved further. I discovered that this game was new, it was innovative; Tetsuya Nomura (Kingdom Hearts) was working on it and, best of all, the combat system was getting a revamp. My heart stopped. Could it be? Final Fantasy was getting the much needed make over it deserved?!
This week I played Final Fantasy XV: Platinum Demo and I can honestly, wholeheartedly say that it looks utterly fantastic. The surroundings and setting are not only visually stunning, but mightily realistic; our lead character Noctis Caelum, is interesting; he has a back story and is great fun to play as; the score is so beautiful and nostalgic; and you even get a fennec fox as your tutorial companion.
This is a huge departure from the other games. It’s much, much darker the previous instalments and as for something I never expected: it’s an open world game. An entirely new prospect for a (single player) Final Fantasy title. Aside from all this, though, the newly evolved “Active Cross Battle System” is in place which is exactly what a modern day Final Fantasy needs, in my opinion. Just like its predecessors, this game needed to reinvent its fighting mechanic before everyone just rolled their eyes and switched off. This mechanic is a bold step, but it’s a very progressive step. This could shape the future of many games and could put FFXV up there with legendary status.
The game is distinctly Nomura-esque. The graphics and character aesthetics are very reminiscent of the Kingdom Hearts remasters, which I never enjoyed that much to be honest, but don’t let that put you off. It completely works in this new environment and it takes nothing away from what I can only imagine to be an overwhelming enjoyment for the senses and I for one am very, very much looking forward to owning and playing it when it’s officially released this September.
Well done, Square, you finally did it.