Gamers recently went chocoboshit over the announcement that Final Fantasy VII is being remade. I enjoyed the blocky classic that taught my teenage self that brooding loners are too the cool ones who get all the girls, but I'm not optimistic about the remake, considering there hasn't been a good Final Fantasy in a decade. And that shows in its sales, which have been going down faster than all the women who find me irresistibly attractive for writing long essays about fictional magic teenagers. Maybe the FFVII remake will be great. But it will take a lot more than a polished throwback to the glory days to save the franchise, because ...
#5. It's Drowning In Pointless Spinoffs
It's hard to explain the appeal of Final Fantasy to non-players. Just look at this screenshot:
Anyone who played FFVI suddenly wants to play it again just for that opera, while everyone else is wondering how their junior high poetry ended up floating over a drab castle. You need to know the context, which I'll try to explain even though I done don't word too good no more since the ol' accident.
Before "Final Fantasy" got slapped on everything short of Tonberry vibrators, it used to have a specific meaning. Every year or two a Final Fantasy game would come out, and every time it would deliver the same experience. You'd get a brand-new setting, cast, story, and combat system, but enough familiar elements that it was easy to jump right in. Fans could debate which the best was, even though it's obviously IX, but there was always a consistent level of quality. You knew Final Fantasy meant 20 to 40 hours of solid gameplay and story.
If that doesn't sound like a big deal, remember that they were coming out when an average game's story was a few hours of "Kill all those bad guys. OK, now kill all those bad guys." The idea of a game taking a breather for an elaborate con centered on an opera blew little kid minds. It didn't matter that it looked primitive. Your imagination filled in the blanks.
Sometimes against your will.
They're not masterpieces. IV brings so many characters back from the dead that comic book fans would roll their eyes. Most villains are cackling maniacs who are evil for the sake of it. There are plot holes and conveniences galore. But they tried. They told stories about war and love and friendship and betrayal when "Hold down the trigger until the aliens are defeated" was considered profound. It was an early sign that games could accomplish something serious.
Then the rest of the industry matched, then surpassed, that level of storytelling. Our standards rose, and Square took a good look at these new expectations and boldly ... decided to stop trying and just cash in on cheap nostalgia. They took all their beloved characters and slapped them into universally reviled mobile games that exist only to milk loyal fans with insulting transparency.
"Get a brief reminder of your fleeting CHILDHOOD? $0.99."
It took 14 years for the first 10 games to come out, during which there were a handful of well-regarded spinoffs. Since X was released in 2001 there's been one mediocre main installment and one awful installment, one mediocre MMO and one completely bungled MMO, and more forgettable spinoffs than there are people on the planet. Crystal Chronicles, Crystal Defenders, Dissidia, Dimensions, Theatrhythm, Explorers, Record Keeper, Flan Fuckers ... the list goes on and on. "Final Fantasy" isn't a sign of quality anymore; they're words that make you think, "Oh God, what stupid bullshit have they come up with now?"
No successful franchise, especially a game franchise, is immune to spinoffs. Mario has played every sport known to man. But no franchise just stopped giving a shit as abruptly as Final Fantasy did. Mario's extracurricular activities usually have thought and effort put into them. Final Fantasy's spinoffs are lazy money grabs with about as much original thought put into them as a BuzzFeed article. Oh, and Mario isn't the new spokesperson for Louis freaking Vuitton.
Lightning returns (to sell you an overpriced purse).
#4. They Forgot How To Write A Coherent Story
FFIV is about a knight who saves the world and atones for his sins. V is about stopping an evil sorcerer. VI is about overthrowing an evil government. VII is about overthrowing an evil corporation. VIII is a gay romance gone wrong. IX is about a war with a sinister plot behind it. Tactics is about a war with a sinister plot behind it, but on a grid.
I is about giving your heroes funny names.
There's far more to all of these, of course -- VI ends up being about an evil clown, VII ends up being about a misguided male hair model, and so on. But the basics can be summed up with ease, and then the intriguing details slowly unfold. Even X, where the big twist is that fantasy Peyton Manning is the collective dream of a dead civilization, starts with a lost dude fleeing a giant monster. Now I'm going to try to sum up the opening hours of XIII. If your nose starts bleeding, don't worry -- that is normal.
XIII begins in Cocoon, where citizens of Bodhum are being Purged by PSICOM, soldiers of the Sanctum, for coming in contact with a fal'Cie from Pulse. The fal'Cie are turning people into l'Cie, who have a Focus, but if the l'Cie fail to complete their Focus they're turned into Cie'th. Our hero, Lightning, teams up with members of NORA to rescue her l'Cie sister from the fal'Cie Anima, and the story continues naturally from there. Did you get all that? If so, please explain it to me.
There was something about how dudebros are the worst, right?
XIII throws more made-up and unexplained words at you than a cat playing Scrabble. It's like taking the third season of Game Of Thrones, which assumes you have preexisting knowledge of the universe, and airing it as the first. When XIII came out, some fans defended it by saying it really "opens up" at the 20-hour mark. You know, like how they tell you what Jedi, The Force, the Rebels, and the Empire are 70 minutes into A New Hope. Or how The Lord Of The Rings explains what Hobbits, the One Ring, and Sauron are on page 350. If your 50-hour game has 30 hours of fun locked behind 20 hours of incoherent garbage, you've made a bad game.
That's why VII doomed the franchise even as it launched sales into the stratosphere. VII was the first to use CGI cutscenes, but instead of realizing that a restrained 47 minutes of CGI could complement competent game-making, the lesson Square took away was "beautiful cinematics produce sales." Then they crammed more and more cinematics into their games until XIII collapsed under the weight of eight and a half hours of them.
Ironically, the best Final Fantasy game to come out recently isn't a FF game. Bravely Default, the game Square released when they wanted to make a traditional Final Fantasy but realized that well was thoroughly poisoned, is a simple but engrossing fantasy about four kids saving the world. Bravely Default was a surprise sales hit, but one that Square apparently learned nothing from considering that everything we know about the upcoming Final Fantasy XV sounds like overwrought nonsense.
I'm sure it will take only 10 hours to explain why those knights have guns, though.
#3. They Forgot How To Tell A Story In A Single Game
Final Fantasy's storytelling problem is compounded by what I call the Fabula Nova Crystallis Excelsior Flapjack Boogaloo Conundrum -- they've become incapable of telling a story in just one game, and the more games they expand a story to, the dumber it gets. Square first dabbled in this with X-2, where players who enjoyed Yuna's world-saving journey of self-discovery in X could now follow her pop music and fashion career. Then came IV: The After Years, which was thrown together with as much care as its bad sitcom title implies. "If you enjoyed the original classic, why not pay us for a tedious spinoff that adds nothing to the characters or story?" Square asked, and gamers happily said yes because the world was still young then.
X-2 was at least aware of how goofy it was, but its success set the stage for bloated disasters. If you want the full XIII experience you need to play XIII, XIII-2, Lightning Returns, Type-0, and whatever else they decide to shit out under the laboriously named Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy subseries. That's 135 hours of gameplay! Not counting side quests! Jesus, I just want to fight an evil wizard! If only there had been a sign that strategy would backfire.
Are you looking forward to re-experiencing VII's nicely self-encapsulated story? Well, too goddamn bad, because now you need to play Before Crisis, Crisis Core, and Dirge Of Cerberus to get the full experience. Oh, and watch Advent Children and Last Order. Drag out a simple plot point with unnecessary backstory, save the world you already saved, but this time do it as an emo vampire, and watch the doodles on your junior high math book come to soulless life! You don't have anything better to do with your time, do you?
Be careful, the box is edgy.
Then there's the fact that these games feel like grim death marches through a thousand LiveJournals. Games like Crisis Advent Nova Zero Breaker Breaker aren't fun; they're exhausting. Earlier games had serious stories, but they also had fights with a self-proclaimed member of octopus royalty and an angry old man chasing a bard around for trying to bang his daughter. XIII has characters that give endless, rambling, whiny speeches about their emotions as filtered through Philosophy 101. XIII has a character named Hope learn the meaning of hope. If Square made a Batman game, Bruce Wayne would give a 40-minute speech on bats, and then Bane would say that humanity's true bane is feelings.
To put it another way, VI has a character declare, "My life is a chip in your pile! Ante up!" which makes you want to go punch a villain's stupid evil face in. In XIII, Lightning's explanation of her name is "Lightning. It flashes bright, then fades away. It can't protect. It only destroys," which risks putting a permanent cringe on your face. Who wants to grind through multiple spinoffs with a character that joyless?