Where Final Fantasy Went Wrong, and How Square Enix is Putting It Right

Final Fantasy's star has lost its shine for many fans. We speak with the series' creators to learn how they're working to restore its former glory.

Feature by Jeremy Parish, .

Yoshinori Kitase has a mission: He wants to restore the Final Fantasy series to its former glory.

Granted, he's never stated his goal in so many words, but it's become clear from his comments to the press as well as my own interactions with him over the past year or two that the series' fading popularity – especially in the West – weighs heavily on his mind. And it's something he aims to correct.

A few days before this year's Game Developer's Conference kicked off, I met with the long-time Final Fantasy producer and found myself slightly taken aback by the directness of our conversation. The plan for our meeting, I had assumed, was that I would interview him about the HD remakes of Final Fantasy X and X-2, whose U.S. versions were launching a few days later. Instead, he ended up asking most of the questions.

Equally surprising was his greeting, as he began our conversation by thanking me warmly for USgamer's review of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. Granted, our review of Lightning Returns came in toward the high end of the Metacritic aggregate, but it wasn't the highest critical rating by far. Not only that, but our text was decidedly blunt in its criticism of the game's weaknesses. I referred to the story as "dumb" and the visuals as "a hot mess," while Pete dinged it for its "clunkiness" – not really words you'd expect to inspire gratitude. As Kitase spoke, though, I began to realize that our frankness was precisely what he appreciated about the review.

What was meant to be an interview was quickly turned on its ear as Kitase reversed the usual interview format. Could I expound more on my Lightning Returns criticisms, he asked? What makes for a good Japanese-to-English localization? What do Americans look for in RPGs? How had Final Fantasy XV's trailer been received? And so on, for more than an hour.

And there were more intriguing questions, such as the "strictly hypothetical" inverse of his musings at last year's E3 about the place of turn-based RPGs on modern consoles. Would fans be OK with a remake of a classic game like Final Fantasy VI or VII, he wondered, if it changed the original game's combat system to a more action-oriented style?

The overall impression Kitase gave was that of a man taking a long, hard look at a difficult situation and welcoming all feedback, both positive and negative. As the key figurehead for the Final Fantasy series, he knows the games he creates have to change in order to recapture the international successes they enjoyed a decade ago. Right now, he seems to be contemplating what form that change must take.


My conversation with Kitase took place just a few days after the NPD group had released its sales figures for February 2014. Relevant to our meeting was that fact that while Lightning Returns ranked in the top 10 games for the month, it had been outperformed by Bravely Default, another Square Enix RPG. The discrepancy clearly had caught the company off-guard, if the uncomfortable silence that settled over the table when Kitase mentioned Bravely Default served as any indication.

Bravely Default started life as Final Fantasy. Silicon Studio first conceived it as their sequel to 2010's DS spin-off Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, but they decided along the way to drop the name and allow the game to strike out in its own creative direction. Despite this shift, Bravely Default nevertheless feels every inch a classic Final Fantasy title, from its turn-based combat to its mutable Job system to the way its storyline echoes Final Fantasy V's. Yet Square Enix declined to publish the game in the U.S., leaving it for Nintendo to pick up – typically a sign of little confidence in a game. Understandably, perhaps; Bravely Default is a turn-based, handheld RPG with cutesy characters designs, ostensibly a losing combo in the West. Certainly that formula didn't do any favors for 4 Heroes of Light, which sank like a stone in the U.S. in 2010, and that game still benefitted from bearing the Final Fantasy name. Could Bravely Default have been expected to fare any better?

Critical Hit: Final Fantasy VI

1994, Super NES
Yoshinori Kitase's first Final Fantasy project as lead, the third and final 16-bit Final Fantasy may not have sold on the level as later games, but it can make an even more impressive claim: It's almost universally loved. Thanks in large part to Kitase's memorable scenario contributions – the opera sequence, Celes' heartrending tale, and more – FFVI managed to transcend the limitations of its primitive technology and speak to gamers, creating a generation of RPG fans in the process.

Yet fare better is precisely what it did. No doubt appearing on an ascendant platform (the 3DS) rather than being shackled to a system in steep decline helped – both 4 Heroes and Lightning Returns alike showed up on moribund platforms, which couldn't have done their sales any favors. Maybe the appealing polish of the visuals overrode any repellant cuteness they might possess. Or perhaps Americans were simply eager to play a great classic RPG, a format that's all but dried up here in recent years. Whatever the case, the takeaway was the same: A heavily promoted Final Fantasy sequel failed to outperform an estranged and deprecated spinoff.

Kitase knows first-hand that Japanese RPGs can appeal to the West. He's personally responsible for helping to prove Final Fantasy's potential for global appeal; the first three games he directed – Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy VII – may actually be the three most beloved Japanese RPGs ever published in America. Certainly they rank among the best-selling. Several of his other projects (including Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy X) topped the charts abroad as well. No doubt he hopes to capture that level of success again, though of course Final Fantasy can't rely on its old tricks to stay on top. Final Fantasy VI happened 20 years ago, and both games and the industry surrounding it have changed radically in that time.

In fact, therein lies the root of Final Fantasy's current travails.

The obsession

"We had an unhealthy obsession with graphical quality."

Naoki Yoshida's confession during his GDC panel a few days later was, in its own way, as surprising as Kitase's comments had been. This time, the surprise came from his frankness. Japanese game developers tend to be fairly guarded with their self-criticism, not so much from hubris or lack of self-awareness, but more from a cultural reluctance to throw their peers and collaborators under the bus. Despite Yoshida's circumspection during his GDC presentation, however, the fact was that he spoke harshly of someone else's game project in making his point.

But then, Yoshida's strength comes from his pragmatism – his willingness to take a realistic look at the situation and do what's needed to make things work, even if it breaks protocol. As the director and designer on Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, Yoshida has shouldered the unenviable task of salvaging Square Enix's most potentially disastrous game ever. The original version of Final Fantasy XIV was, by every metric, an unmitigated failure of an MMO. A Realm Reborn, the first of what evidently will be many stem-to-stern overhauls of the game, threw out nearly everything present in the original version and somehow turned a flaming wreck into one of the best-received MMOs of the past few years. Even more impressively, Yoshida's guidance and his heartfelt candor with the player base helped maintain confidence in the project during the lull between FFXIV's shutdown and A Realm Reborn's launch.

Critical Hit: Final Fantasy VII

1997, PlayStation
By far the most commercially successful single-player entry in the Final Fantasy series, FFVII built on the principles laid down by its predecessor – flexible play mechanics, tremendous character empowerment, a grand and apocalyptic plotline – and applied state-of-the-art visuals. It was the first console RPG to become a true international blockbuster, and it established both Final Fantasy and the role-playing genre as mainstays in the West.

Yoshida credits A Realm Reborn's success in part to his own willingness to abandon the typical hierarchy and collaboration that comprise Square Enix's development processes. He began working on A Realm Reborn by single-handedly establishing more than 400 design goals before slowly delegating tasks to a handful of trusted team members. Yet despite this unprecedented approach, he comes across as wholly matter-of-fact; there's no rancor in his criticism of the game he had to salvage, nor is there braggadocio in his explanation of his own methods. Rather, Yoshida makes it clear that FFXIV's failure wasn't the fault of any one individual but rather amounted to a systemic failure.

According to Yoshida, Square Enix's corporate and creative culture franchise fed the flames of XIV's failure. Processes that worked magnificently in previous game generations – including those that helped make FFXIV's predecessor, Final Fantasy XI Online, the company's most profitable product ever – broke down amidst the realities of the contemporary game technology and requirements. Insular designers failed to account for the changing needs and expectation of players. Artists poured excessive detail into incidental in-game objects, as Yoshida demonstrated by showing off a simple barrel in the scenery that contained the complexity of (and demanded the processing resources of) a player character – a woeful waste of human and CPU effort.

"Final Fantasy XI was successful, so the expectations for FFXIV were high," Yoshida said. "Yet leaning too heavily leaning on a previous success caused failure." The team was unable to recognize the ways the MMO market had shifted in the eight years between FFXI and FFXIV, he explained. FFXIV needed to break from the company's long-running obsession with graphics, adapt to genre-wide design changes, and respond to changes in user needs.

You can draw a line from Yoshida's comments to the franchise as a whole.

Keeping pace

In a way, Kitase's Final Fantasy VII bears much of the blame for FFXIV's troubles. Back in 1997, Squaresoft's first PlayStation RPG set a new standard for visuals and presentation. While the rest of the industry muddled along with Siliwood-style full-motion video cut scenes starring D-grade acting, FFVII featured more than half an hour of computer-rendered sequences that reflected the game's graphical style, seamlessly merging gameplay and movie. It set a new standard for storytelling; other games had used similar techniques, but never to such an extent. Never so carefully integrated into the game action. And never for a game with such depth and content. Appropriately, FFVII became Squaresoft's best-selling game, moving more than 10 million units and inspiring a number of spinoffs, prequels, and sequels across multiple media.

The rest of the industry immediately set about imitating and improving FFVII's techniques. Works like Metal Gear Solid took a major step forward by abandoning full-motion video and rendering their cut scenes with the same real-time graphics present in the game itself, creating a more consistent and immersive narrative style. At the same time, pure action games increasingly began to incorporate more and more role-playing elements.

Critical Hit: Final Fantasy XI

2003, PC/PlayStation 2/Xbox 360
Though less widely played than FFVII, FFXI stands as Square Enix's single most profitable product ever thanks to its longevity and the ongoing fee structure of the MMO sales model. FFXI started rough but grew progressively more enjoyable through years of updates and refinements – great for fans, but bad for FFXIV. According to Yoshida, the fix-it-in-the-patch mentality caused the FFXIV team to take a lax approach to quality.

Fast-forward to the present day, where first-person shooter Call of Duty represents not only the ultimate evolution of FFVII's immersive narrative style – the entirety of any given Call of Duty campaign is basically a blockbuster movie in which the player advances the plot by shooting things – but also integrates leveling mechanics and permanent skill upgrades into its multiplayer component. Likewise the Uncharted games, the Tomb Raider reboot, the BioShock series, and nearly every other big-budget franchise of the past 10 years. Mass Effect 2 brilliantly combined the methods of the role-playing genre with the mechanics of a cover-based shooter. Countless games do what once made Final Fantasy so unique, but without the abstraction of menu-driven combat.

To stay ahead of the competition, Square Enix doubled down on presentation. Each Final Fantasy sequel has looked more visually splendid than the last, and the storylines have grown ever more arcane. But as the graphics improved, so too did the manpower required to create the art for the games. By Final Fantasy XII for PlayStation 2, art demands accounted for 70% of the game's development budget, and the leap to HD consoles only worsened the situation.

"On PS2, Square Enix focused on creating top-flight graphics. But resource requirements exploded in the PlayStation 3 era. Suddenly, there were too many craftsman." — Naoki Yoshida

Yoshida likens the artists working on FFXIV to craftsmen. Yet he conceded that the original game's misplaced emphasis on graphical quality was "probably a product of the company's success in the PlayStation 2 era.

"On PS2, Square Enix focused on creating top-flight graphics," he said. "But resource requirements exploded in the PlayStation 3 era. Suddenly, there were too many craftsman." Where once games could be engineered by small dozens of craftsmen, the move to HD meant that hundreds of artists were all working to create the best possible visuals – but within a structure designed for smaller teams. Collaboration gave way to individuals working at cross purposes. These craftsmen constructed one item at a time in isolation rather than moving in unison to develop a single cohesive whole.

Which brings us back to Lightning Returns, and Final Fantasy XIII, a game nearly as troubled as FFXIV.

Unlucky XIII

The deck was stacked against FFXIII from the very beginning.

"Final Fantasy XIII was originally slated to be a PlayStation 2 game," says director Motomu Toriyama. "However, our game development period coincided with the time when the next console generation was upon us and the announcement of the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 was about to be made. So after working on the game for about a year or so, we had to make the decision of which console to develop the game for.

"It takes at least three years to develop a completely new Final Fantasy game, and our mission was to achieve the highest technology in game design. These two factors resulted in our decision to develop the game on the next-gen consoles instead."

Critical Miss: Final Fantasy XIII

2010, PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Despite generally positive reviews and strong sales, FFXIII soured many people – fans and critics alike – to the Final Fantasy franchise. A victim of timing and a system ill-equipped to deal with the realities of HD game development, FFXIII spent years in development yet in the end came out feeling rushed, confusing, and limited in scope. Beautiful, yet incomplete.

In fairness, the blame for FFXIII's development confusion can't properly be laid at its creators' feet; had Final Fantasy XII not run well past its original ship date, FFXIII could quite likely have made it into the PlayStation 2's final days. Instead, a series of development complications delayed FFXII until 2006; it launched in the U.S. mere months before the PlayStation 3 arrived. By that point, PlayStation 2 was on its way out, and there seemed little chance that FFXIII could have sold well had it launched on the older system a year or two later. The team had to reinvent FFXIII from the ground up for a new platform.

As with FFXIV, the spectre of Final Fantasy VII played a part in FFXIII's difficulties. This time, though, the problem arose from a PlayStation 3 tech demo that recreated FFVII's iconic introductory sequence in real time to show off the power of the new console and the potential of Square Enix's next-gen White Engine.

"When we showcased the Final Fantasy VII Technical Demo on the PlayStation 3 at E3 in 2005, we realized its high potential," recalls Toriyama. "This directly spurred us to shift the game onto the next-gen console. It took us about six months to create the demo, and we pretty much had to put a hold on the development of FFXIII during that time."

Six months of development time for a 90-second, non-interactive video consisting of preexisting content? The tech demo presented an extraordinarily high standard of craftsmanship – impossibly high – to which the team felt compelled to target their new project. A year later, they returned to E3 with a fresh trailer, this time announcing FFXIII. That, too, promised a high standard of quality — one that unfortunately didn't truly represent the game as it was.

"The debut trailer shown at E3 in 2006 was created to depict the concept of Final Fantasy XIII," admits Toriyama. The E3 announcement trailer depicted the team's aspirations for FFXIII, but the game itself wasn't there yet.

"The debut trailer shown at E3 in 2006 was created to depict the concept of Final Fantasy XIII. Of course, as the trailer would be shown to a global audience, we worked to visualize what we would consider as our goal for a final game, instead of showing the early development stage of the game." — Motomu Toriyama

"The concept of Lightning as the female protagonist and the fast-paced ATB (Active Time Battle) system had already been decided by then. Of course, as the trailer would be shown to a global audience, we worked to visualize what we would consider as our goal for a final game, instead of showing the early development stage of the game.

"Elements relating to the lore and story that were created for the PlayStation 2 version of FFXIII were kept as-is, but we re-designed technical elements such as graphics, battle system, and game mechanics to specifically match the next-gen console specs."

The FFXIII announcement trailer excited fans with its promise of seamless integration between cutscenes and combat enhanced by a sleek, almost invisible menu system that created an illusion of real-time combat. But while Toriyama's group had already nailed down FFXIII's story, lore, and characters, the expression of those elements as a video game remained murky. By some accounts, the battle mechanics weren't fully locked down until six months before FFXIII launched in Japan.

Critical Miss: Final Fantasy XIV

2011, PC/PlayStation 3
Like FFXIII, FFXIV stumbled through development with the guiding philosophy that the things that had worked (or at least been tolerable) with FFXI would serve FFXIV as well. The end result was reviled by players and critics alike, a crushing disappointment of an MMO.

Then again, the team had plenty of time to sort things out while the White Engine – eventually reworked into the multiplatform Crystal Tools – took shape. "Naturally, we had to build a brand-new engine from scratch as the basis of the game, which was then tuned specifically for the next-gen console," says Toriyama. "Building the foundation of the engine alone took several years. During that time, the size of the development team was temporarily reduced, and we conducted basic technical research and produced preproduction assets before producing them on a larger scale."

"During the transition to the PlayStation 3 system, the technical know-how for character model sculpting and texture completely changed from that of the PlayStation 2. As a result, developers and artists were forced to adapt and change their existing knowledge and skills. We also needed to rebuild the workflow and development pipeline from scratch."

As a result of all this change in the face of the next-generation transition, the FFXIII project spent much of its time spinning its wheels. Despite launching nearly four years after its announcement in 2006 – by which time it had already been in development for roughly two years – Toriyama admits the final product was rushed through a short production timeline.

"Final Fantasy XIII was mainly criticized for its linear game design," he says. "There are several reasons for the game’s linearity. With a limited amount of development time and resources, we made the game linear in order to maximize the players’ gameplay experience and to provide the same type of gameplay experience to all players. By doing so, we aimed to offer the most entertaining gameplay experience.

"This approach had a great advantage in providing players with enough time to become familiarized with the new battle system and the unique world. But on the other hand, it led to players feeling like the majority of the game was a tutorial. I believe this was a big flaw in the game."

Fabula Nova Crystallis

After years of delays and complications, Final Fantasy XIII sold well – to date, it's moved nearly seven million units – but critical reception wasn't nearly so kind. It earned unusually mixed reviews, and forum discussions surrounding the game tended to be unkind. Many positive reviews took on a defensive tone, seemingly written more in response to fan conversations than about the game itself. Square had a hit, but going by online reception it felt like a miss.

The negativity surrounding the game left the future of FFXIII in doubt; in Square's grand vision, the game was to be the beginning of a whole new franchise within Final Fantasy. Perhaps emboldened by the success of its Compilation of Final Fantasy VII projects, Square Enix announced two companion games alongside the debut of FFXIII: A mobile card game Final Fantasy Agito XIII, and a stunning action RPG by Tetsuya Nomura's Kingdom Hearts team called Final Fantasy Versus XIII. The plan, obviously, was to plan ahead for a FFVII-level success and turn FFXIII into its own brand, called Fabula Nova Crystallis.

But the delays and complications that affected the game trickled down into its side stories. Agito and Versus ended up being rebranded as Final Fantasy Type 0 and Final Fantasy XV, respectively; the former moved to PlayStation Portable, while FFXV migrated from PlayStation 3 to PlayStation 4. Like Bravely Default, their new names were presented as an opportunity for the separate works to strike out and find their own identity. But the subtext many fans have inferred is that the name Final Fantasy XIII had become burdened with too many negative connotations – box office poison.

Critical Hit: Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

2013, PC/PlayStation 3/PlayStation 4
Though it's called Final Fantasy XIV, A Realm Reborn is practically an entirely new game. New director Naoki Yoshida headed up what may well go down as the most extensive game patch in history, rebuilding FFXIV from top to bottom... and miraculously winning back countless disenfranchised fans in the process.

Nevertheless, FFXIII did spawn two sequels. Unlike the original Fabula Nova Crystallis plan, though, these took the form of direct FFXIII sequels that continued the original game's plot line. This had an obvious benefit: The sequels allowed the team to reuse existing assets (character models, settings, and presumably much of the extra FFXIII content that ended up on the cutting room floor) and recoup some of the costs of the first game's protracted development cycle. At the same time, Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lighting Returns also offered the FFXIII team a chance to address the complaints that many fans had voiced about the first game.

"In Final Fantasy XIII, the battle system was reinvented, and we believe that generally speaking, the Paradigm Shift system was received well from the players who understood the system," Toriyama explains. "At that point, though, the best we could do in one game was to create a game where the players can master the basics of the battle. From there, I felt we could allow greater flexibility and increase the strategic element in the game. And so with Final Fantasy XIII-2, we decided to allow the evolution of the battle system by making the Paradigm Shift as the basis of the battle and having many monsters join your party as allies.

"The linear design of FFXIII had a great advantage in providing players with enough time to become familiarized with the new battle system and the unique world. But on the other hand, it led to players feeling like the majority of the game was a tutorial." — Motomu Toriyama

"On the other hand, the game design [in FFXIII] received many criticisms for its linear design. In order to allow for greater flexibility, we incorporated Historia Crux, a new gameplay and story element, which allowed players to freely travel between locations and visit them in different time periods as the crossroads of history."

In the end, the FFXIII "series" turned out to be a connected trilogy of fundamentally similar games by the same core team – quite a change from the original plan for a trio of almost completely unrelated titles by separate groups. In the end, it probably worked out just as well. Toriyama explains that the intent behind the different Fabula Nova Crystallis titles was to feature "various worlds using the crystal mythology as a framework." Yet the concept never really gelled with the public – in part because the deliberate ambiguity of the concept made it difficult to pin down.

Hit/Miss: Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

2014, PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Though seemingly a sales flop, and the recipient of terribly mixed reviews, Lightning Returns was hardly the disaster many expected, and many who initially wrote it off have been won over by its forays into new, open-world territory for the series. If nothing else, it helped Square shore up its behind-the-scenes processes for the future – that is, for games that won't be dragged down by FFXIII fatigue.

"The Fabula Nova Crystallis mythology is not written like a detailed history book. While the content may be simple, like a fairy tale that gets passed on, it contains a vast world and mythology that are tied to various deities, making it too large to be told in one game.

"We realize that this approach may have been difficult for some players to understand in one game. The Fabula Nova Crystallis concept is so vast that it resulted in creating obscure settings of the world and a lack of explanation of the storyline. Moving forward, we’d like to make an effort to polish up the narrative and storytelling technique in order to create stories that players can easily take in."

It seems a tacit admission that the team put the cart before the horse in planning FFXIII as the fulcrum of a vast, sweeping mythos. In the end, Fabula Nova Crystallis turned out to have been much ado about nothing; both Type 0 and, by all appearances, Final Fantasy XV retain the original story elements that tie them to the Fabula Nova Crystallis. But given that those concepts – crystals and warring gods – have been part of Final Fantasy's DNA since the beginning, nothing about their plots specifically necessitates a connection to FFXIII or Fabula Nova Crystallis.

Righting the course

Despite the conspicuous improvements they offer, FFXIII's sequels haven't precisely scored home runs. While fans and critics alike generally agree they've both improved on the limited design of FFXIII, both games' aggregate review scores are considerably lower than that of their predecessor – and their sales have been even lower.

From a creative perspective, however, they seem to have met their developers' primary goal: Reinventing the broken process by which Final Fantasy games are made.

"We wanted to polish the development structure and respond to the mixed reviews that we received from the fans in the form of a sequel," explains Toriyama. "Final Fantasy XIII-2 was created after a new development method was put into place to thoroughly manage our milestones and to overcome difficult challenges we often faced during the development of Final Fantasy XIII. Thanks to that, the development process for both Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII progressed smoothly."

In other words, FFXIII's sequels have played a similar role to A Realm Reborn: A chance for Square Enix's internal teams to reinvent themselves and come up with leaner, more efficient processes. In a sense, the games' ultimate sales are probably immaterial in the long run so long as they help prevent future entries in the series from falling afoul the troubles that undermined both FFXIII and FFXIV.

Toriyama says as much himself: "[For] Final Fantasy XIII, a large-scale team was starting the pre-production while the game engine was being developed at the same time. We relied on past experience, making estimations without clearly defining milestones, and not restricting the team structure with each development phase. It wouldn’t have been an issue if the game was an extension of a past project. But when there’s a major technological evolution or the game is developed for a console with completely new features, this method will not work.

"Because of this, we’ve been trying to improve our development process starting with Final Fantasy XIII-2. Since there are specific milestones, an appropriate structure and a specific number of staff needed for each development phase, we try not to force ourselves to proceed further in the process until we have clearly defined these milestones, team structure and have completed deliverables for each development phase. It may sound obvious, but this method is essential to ensure steady progression of the game development [process].

"We relied on past experience, making estimations without clearly defining milestones, and not restricting the team structure with each development phase. Because of this, we’ve been trying to improve our development process starting with Final Fantasy XIII-2." — Motomu Toriyama

"By the Final Fantasy XIII series becoming a trilogy, the Crystal Tools also evolved with each game. To give you an example of the technological evolution of the environmental design, with Final Fantasy XIII, developing a static image to match the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 specs was the best we could do at that point. With Final Fantasy XIII-2, however, character lighting technology improved, in addition to incorporating a dynamic design, such as the weather and the game environment. With Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, we were able to deliver an even more dynamic world by incorporating the element of time.

"By evolving the game engine in each game, we were able to enhance the gameplay quality and our ability to be more expressive. It also shortened the development cycle."

FFXIII's sequels also represented another way in which Square Enix has been righting a listing ship: Collaborative outsourcing. Both FFXIII sequels were co-developed by tri-Ace, a studio that enjoys a lengthy history with the Enix side of Square Enix. While this delegated approach to production is standard practice among Western companies and a key to agile development processes, Square has traditionally preferred to handle major titles (especially Final Fantasy) internally.

Spanners in the works

Even if the new processes Square Enix has developed for Final Fantasy pay off, a number of question marks cast a shadow on the series' future. Both Yoshida and Toriyama have managed to salvage troubled projects and put a more relevant, contemporary spin on FFXIV and FFXIII. But this has come at the cost of the series' trademark visual quality; A Realm Reborn sacrificed granular detail for more impressionistic beauty, while Lightning Returns looks almost like a rough prototype compared to the graphically immaculate FFXIII.

Final Fantasy has sold in large part on aesthetic appeal since the beginning, where Yoshitaka Amano's gorgeous enemy designs set the games apart from other NES RPGs, but its most recent entries are far from competitive compared to the current works of studios like Naughty Dog, Kojima Productions, or Infinity Ward. It remains to be seen whether or not Square Enix can still incorporate stunning visuals into its games while working within the strictures of their new production methods. The company's new Luminous Engine certainly made for an impressive demo when it debuted at E3 2012, but regardless of the underlying tech, designing and creating such detailed graphics still requires significant manpower.

On the other hand, Final Fantasy XV looks absolutely stunning. Not only did last year's E3 trailer feature some of the most gorgeous graphics ever applied to a video game, it also showcased actual gameplay: Fast-paced, epic-scale, shooter-influenced gameplay.

Unfortunately, FFXV made its original debut almost eight years ago at E3 2006, alongside FFXIII (back when FFXV was called Versus XIII). Since then, it appears to have been mired in development hell, with Square Enix reissuing the original trailer with minor modifications each year and showing teasing glimpses of in-engine graphics. Even as recently as last year, FFXV leader Tetsuya Nomura pondered dramatic changes in the game's direction.

Of course, all these delays and uncertainties will be forgiven if the final product lives up to the standard of Final Fantasy's heyday. But regardless of the outcome, FFXV represents the sort of costly production boondoggle Square Enix wants so desperately to move away from. Whatever the quality of its final form – something we hope to have a clearer picture of after next months' E3 – FFXV feels like the last dinosaur wandering the frozen wastelands following an apocalyptic impact event.

????: Final Fantasy XV

TBD, PlayStation 4
And what of the next chapter of Final Fantasy? FFXV looks stunning, and it appears to take a radical approach with the series' mechanics. But will it justify the nearly 10 years' worth of work that will have gone into it by the time it launches? FFXV won't make or break Square Enix, but the reputation and direction of the Final Fantasy franchise hinge on its outcome.

There's also the bigger question, echoed in many of the questions Kitase has voiced, over what Final Fantasy should be. While the current trend of the mainline games is to move away from classic turn-based RPG play, that thinking left them flatfooted when the decidedly archaic Bravely Default became a legitimate hit thanks in large part to classic Final Fantasy fans hungry for a game that tickled their nostalgia. Dynamic action seems like the direction the games industry is heading for now, but does that make it the right direction for Final Fantasy? Or would a turn-based RPG for HD consoles be commercial suicide? Final Fantasy as a concept is big enough that there would seem to be room for both, but the series' direction points overwhelmingly toward frenetic blockbusters. A major factor in Bravely Default's name change came from the fact that the game's traditional stylings represent a take on Final Fantasy's past rather than a look at its future.

The saving grace

For Yoshida, it's essential that Final Fantasy's creators remember to keep their players in mind, to think like a fan.

"I don’t feel like my history with Final Fantasy is very different from people who’ve been playing the series," he says. "It’s been about 10 years since I joined Square Enix, but I’ve played the games since Final Fantasy I, just as a fan. It happened that I was able to be on the development team on a Final Fantasy title with ARR. As I was developing, I wanted to make a Final Fantasy that’s fun for me to play, because I’m a fan of the series as well. I’ve always felt that the franchise could use more fan service, so to speak – not to concentrate on a niche, but more to provide that fantasy.

"As you’re playing [A Realm Reborn], you get the sense that you’re playing through this as the hero of the game. I definitely wanted to emphasize that as one of the main elements, maybe more so than the other Final Fantasy games. With the hero resolving conflicts and accomplishing quests, it starts out in a small part of the world, and gradually expands to bigger tasks and a bigger range within the world. Finally, the hero will shoulder the burden of the whole world. A good blend of that element, and incorporating the Final Fantasy keywords that people would recognize, is how I bring in the essence of Final Fantasy.

"I was going for a sense like the bridge scene in the original Final Fantasy. When people play the game and feel that sense of nostalgia, to me that indicates that we’ve managed to successfully bring out Final Fantasy's essence." – Naoki Yoshida

"You explore and accomplish quests until about level 15, and then you earn the trust of the townspeople in each city. You get on the airship and fly out, and the theme music for Final Fantasy plays. When the team was looking at that part and testing it on their own, they felt, yes, this definitely brings out a sense of Final Fantasy. I was going for a sense like the bridge scene in the original Final Fantasy. There, the title doesn’t show up until you pass that bridge. With ARR, once you hit level 15, and you go on the airship with the expectations of the townspeople, that’s the beginning of your journey.

"When people play the game and feel that sense of nostalgia, to me that indicates that we’ve managed to successfully bring out Final Fantasy's essence."

Toriyama, on the other hand, takes a more pragmatic, technical view on his projects – and promises that generational challenges like those that affected FFXIII are a thing of the past.

"I believe that the Final Fantasy XIII series laid the necessary foundation towards the direction of next-gen RPG battle systems. This was done by adding the sense of speed and action-oriented approach to the fun, strategic aspect of the ATB system, a traditional battle system in the Final Fantasy series."

"While graphics are becoming more and more realistic, I believe that games that can enhance the appeal of the action-oriented gameplay with simple controls and rich playability will become increasingly important in the future.

"If I were to compare the differences between the previous console generation transition and the latest transition to the PlayStation 4/Xbox One, I would say that as long as the game is developed on a high-spec PC, it’s much easier today to make that technological transition. This is because with respect to the visual expression, shader-based technology is still used today."

As for Kitase, the man on a mission? He declined to discuss his as-yet-unannounced next project for the time being. Still, whatever that new venture turns out to be, it'll be interesting to see how much of the feedback he's been gathering from fans and press alike over the past few years makes it into the game – and whether or not his team manages to preserve the series' fundamental essence in the process.

Final Fantasy definitely has a difficult road ahead for it in the coming years. But realistically, there are few legacy franchises that began in the 8-bit era for which that's not true. Compared to most of its peers from the '80s, Final Fantasy still has a fighting chance to remain vital and relevant moving into the new console generation. The fact that its creative leads have made an active attempt to correct the series' course before it's too far gone gives cause for hope even amidst the uncertainty that has surrounded so many recent releases to bear the Final Fantasy name. And the warm reception that has greeted both Bravely Default and A Realm Reborn suggests that the series' estranged fans aren't so far away, eager to return when — and if — the series once again speaks to them.

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Comments 51

  • Avatar for phatcorns #1 phatcorns 4 years ago
    Still reading the rest of the article, but Bravely Default I think also largely benefited from an incredible amount of word-of-mouth. Twitter and podcasts were rife with conversation for the two months or so leading up to it. It was kind of surprising actually, you just couldn't escape it for a while. I'm glad though, it's a great game.
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  • Avatar for SpoonyBardOL #2 SpoonyBardOL 4 years ago
    Wow, this was a great read. It's really good to see the developers be so frank about the shortcomings of the franchise like this, while still being hopeful that they can right the course for the future. It's encouraging, even.

    Now if only we could get this level of frankness out of Nintendo regarding Metroid.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #3 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    @phatcorns Sure, but isn't word of mouth something that emerges organically from those other factors?
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  • Avatar for pashaveliki #4 pashaveliki 4 years ago
    This has to be one of the single best write ups on final fantasy that I've read in years. The brutal honesty of the devs has left me with a bit of hope that they can turn it around.
    Articles like this are why I come to USgamer.
    Thanks, Jeremy!Edited May 2014 by pashaveliki
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  • Avatar for tsamba #5 tsamba 4 years ago
    The Final Fantasy team being genuinely confused about the series' performance in America is an amusing image. I mean, seriously? They've been significantly alienating expectations of their series, for better or worse, since at least Final Fantasy VIII — one of the things you liked about Lightning Returns is its relative weirdness when compared to the series' expectations.

    I don't think there has ever been an uninteresting or truly bad Final Fantasy game, but the words Final Fantasy no longer convey any specific gameplay elements. They describe series consistent spells, chocobos, moogles, Biggs and Wedge, Cid, but I don't think consumers know what a Final Fantasy game will play like today.

    Of course players will criticize FFXIII's linearity if one of the things they look for in an FF game is non-linearity (despite this being a strange expectation when the series has never been particularly non-linear). Consumers buying a Call of Duty game know exactly what to expect, and the games deliver on those expectations, even when they have completely different development teams.

    I don't think Final Fantasy needs to be designed to appeal to the expectations of fans. I don't think the Final Fantasy games have ever been designed to appeal to the expectations of fans. To hear that the developers behind recent Final Fantasy games have been trying to do just that is incredible.
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  • Avatar for benjaminlu86 #6 benjaminlu86 4 years ago
    Good write-up; would have loved to hear more from Kitase in the meat of the article, which is where the intro seemed like it was heading.
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #7 touchofkiel 4 years ago
    FFXIII is really the biggest black eye on the series for me. But the trilogy has just dominated the franchise for a while now, and the first game had SO much hype behind it. People say they haven't enjoyed one since FFX, but not me. I love(d) both of the MMOs, and XII is my favorite in the whole series.

    Part of the problem is that there are far less side projects and remakes than there were before. We haven't seen Tactics in a while, Crystal Chronicles took a downhill turn, we never saw Type 0, Dissidia has been forgotten, Crisis Core turned out to be a fluke (the only good thing about the Compilation of FFVII), they haven't continued with the natural progression of remakes (FFV, please!).... it's endless. If you look at, say, 2003-2009, when the "main" series was trying new and divisive things, the franchise was bolstered by a LOT of awesome portable games. So even if you didn't like FFXII, there was a lot of great FF games to play anyway.

    Most of these were for DS and PSP. Now we have Vita and 3DS, and instead of awesome games, we're getting fugly iOS remakes and absurdly priced games like All the Bravest.

    In other words, we need more side projects and remakes to bolster the main series. Especially since XV looks even worse than XIII.
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #8 Funny_Colour_Blue 4 years ago
    Deleted May 2014 by Funny_Colour_Blue
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  • Avatar for pertusaria #9 pertusaria 4 years ago
    I really enjoy these long-form articles, although I realise you can't put them up every day. I hope you guys can keep the site going and vibrant - I've really enjoyed pieces like this that cover (even fairly large) niches that I don't know well, but it's been pretty quiet 'round here lately.

    On-topic (sort of), I recently got a Vita and I'm looking forward to playing through the available Final Fantasies at some point. I borrowed a console and one of the games from my cousin once upon a time, but couldn't work out the combat mechanics in the time I had available.
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  • Avatar for mganai #10 mganai 4 years ago
    Bravely Default also didn't have a couple of 4HoL's decidedly limited battle options (i. e. auto-targeting, finite single spell slots) which turned off some people here and there. It hewed a lot closer to FFV (if without ATB) and threw in enemy encounter and difficulty settings for good measure.

    But yeah, hardly the point of the article. I did enjoy what I played of LR. I am slightly less enthusiastic about being reminded of FFXV's KH-esque roots though.
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  • Avatar for Alan_01987 #11 Alan_01987 4 years ago
    If BDFF and XIV is the future of series, then i am not interested. These two were some of the most repetitive experiences and the whole "neo old school" manufactured feel just make it feel empty when taken as a whole.

    I wish XV would be more inspired by Onimusha or Demon's Souls and feature more substantial adventure elements and looped area design.Edited May 2014 by Alan_01987
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  • Avatar for Scimarad #12 Scimarad 4 years ago
    "This makes a great many people angry and is widely regarded as a bad idea."

    Nice reference:)

    Great read. To me, FFXIII-2 was already a bit of a return to form but I'm still feeling a bit soured by the fact that Lightning Returns ditched the battle system and monster recruiting in favour of that piece of crap they decided to go with.

    I have to admit that my main reason for being pretty enthusiastic about XV (other than the look of the world from the trailers) is the involvement of the Kingdom Hearts people. If it wasn't them I'd be of the opinion that an action based based battle system for FF was a remarkably bad idea. Again.
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  • Avatar for kidgorilla #13 kidgorilla 4 years ago
    This was great. Really, really great. Thanks, Jeremy!
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  • Avatar for donrosa #14 donrosa 4 years ago
    I'm happy to see the people in charge do some intense soul-searching, since if there's one long-running franchise in dire need of recalibration, it's Final Fantasy.

    While this write-up opened up the possibility of cautious optimism for its future, something I wouldn't have expected ever to happen again in regard to FF, I'll reserve the right to remain skeptical for now. There's been many a op-ed piece and plenty of analyses on how and why the franchise begun its demise, and I doubt I can add anything meaningful to this; but if there's two things I miss in Final Fantasy games, it's the bold autonomy and the creative spark.

    Final Fantasy games have always had their issues. They were far, far, very far from perfect, and every iteration has been bogged down by its own unique set of sometimes incredibly infuriating problems and design decisions. But you still got to enjoy or at least appreciate them, warts and all, with all their glaring imperfections, because they were still very much things of their own. There was this feeling of solidity and uniqueness and involvement to them, something that - at this scope - no other series had to offer.

    At some point, probably with or around FF10 (with the very appreciated outlier-exception of the Matsuno game FF12), the series started producing entries that were desperately and uncomfortably set on pleasing people rather than standing on their own. Main characters ultimately morphed into vaguely androgynous visual kei puppets with their haircuts, their flamboyant Shibuya-plus-exotic-locale fashion, their total lack of humanity, and their painful design-by-demographics approach. Stories lost themselves in the inextricable white noise made up of strange esoterics, effortless generic fantasy/sci-fi tidbits, and embarrassing silliness. Instead of telling stories of their own right, as corny as they were sometimes, they seemed to be hunting for some fleeting pop culture zeitgeist that ultimately robbed their games of their staying power. There was no reason to care because there was no meaning to any of it. The spark was gone.

    Honestly, I still doubt this will change (even if reading this piece made me legit happy). I will admit that the FF15 trailer was ace, it was well-edited and the new direction just might make it work, as a game. But from the look and feel of it, from the way the playable characters are designed and characterized, FF15 still seems to be based on market research rather than on imagination and narrative and creative autonomy.

    Changing this might not be within the capabilities of those who brought the series down (I'm looking at you, Nomura), so Kitase might consider adding fresh blood to the creative department from outside the studio. There's a wealth of writers and artists outside who could give the series back what it needs, people like Kishi Yusuke for an instance.

    Anyway: After reading this article, I am absolutely ready and perfectly willing to hop on the bandwagon with a big fat grin whenever it is that I think the spark might be back. If not with FF15, maybe with FF16? Maybe never. But I guess I'll keep waiting, despite my sense of disillusionment.Edited May 2014 by donrosa
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  • Avatar for Shinta #15 Shinta 4 years ago
    I think you exaggerate the significance of Bravely Default quite a bit. It sold something like 200k combined physical and digital in the US if I'm not mistaken. That's nowhere near enough sales to even be considered as a factor in deciding where to take the future of FF. Kingdom Hearts 3D sold somewhere in that range, and they viewed it as a disappointment.

    Bravely Default was purchased by a small niche. If they decide to cater to that niche, it will be with small products. SQEX typically has shown that they aren't very interested in doing that though.

    SQEX is instead eyeing the sales of Dark Souls, The Witcher, Mass Effect, Skyrim, Dragon Age, and on. It really would be suicide to go back to turn based for a mainline FF game. Their 10 million sales for FFVII, the series' high in sales, directly translates to the 10 million sales Skyrim got. That's their audience, not Bravely Default.

    I really enjoyed Toriyama's quotes in this article. He came across sounding the most intelligent and interesting of the bunch. Yoshida, not so much.

    Something else that I think is a missing piece of this puzzle is Eidos. The article wonders aloud if SQEX can compete with Naughty Dog graphically, and I think that even if we ignore XV, all you have to see is Tomb Raider to know that they absolutely can. Agni's Philosophy was also noteworthy in that it had a handful of Crystal Dynamics artists working on the project along with Visual Works studio in Japan. I think that rather than Kitase asking forums for feedback on what works in the west, they'll also be able to work internally with Eidos to get western feedback before the game is even shown outside the company. They also said they're prioritizing PC development, and considering releasing their games on PC. Even if the console crowd is growing disinterested, the PC crowd is hungry for these games and I think we'll start to see that play a role.Edited May 2014 by Shinta
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  • Avatar for Alan_01987 #16 Alan_01987 4 years ago
    @donrosa FF15 looks more imaginative both setting wise(real life cities re-imagined) and gameplay compared to checklist style of FFXIV and BDFF but all that won't matter if XV fallows FFXIII/FFXIV steps with weak level design, incoherent and static worlds.

    Hell, even BDFF almost lacked old school exploration. Shops were menu, no houses to be explored, towns were two screens and dungeons were boring hallways.

    The difference is that BDFF/XIV are more crowd pleaser than XIII yet SE still failed at creating immersive experience. Edited 3 times. Last edited May 2014 by Alan_01987
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  • Avatar for markkollasch81 #17 markkollasch81 4 years ago
    Bravely Default sold as well as it did without any marketing support, as a result of fans directly comparing it to classic Final Fantasy. This word-of-mouth often includes an implicit complaint about the current state of the franchise, e.g. Bravely Default has been described as "A better Final Fantasy game than Final Fantasy itself has been in over a decade." What this reveals is that the brand "Final Fantasy" still means something.

    In other words, when people hear "Final Fantasy," their strongest positive feelings are related to Final Fantasies 1 through 10, or more likely 4 through 10. Bravely Default shares important qualities with most of these: uncomplicated yet abstract and deep turn-based gameplay, characters with strong personalities and distinctive voices, and straightforward and approachable presentation. Those qualities never go out of style.

    (I'd like to know the origin of the idea that being turn-based in 2014 is a death sentence, and how this myth survives in the face of Pokemon (a turn-based RPG!) routinely hitting sales figures in the seven digits.)

    I would add that cheap-feeling, low-quality ports of classic Final Fantasy games to mobile platforms also damage the Final Fantasy brand. To players already familiar with the old games, it appears that Square Enix simply doesn't care enough about the series to do the job right, creating doubt that future games will be developed with care. To new players who entered gaming with iOS or Android, it creates a very negative first impression of the series, contradicting both the classics' strong reputation and their high prices.
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  • Avatar for Shinta #18 Shinta 4 years ago
    @markkollasch81 Pokemon sells millions, but Bravely Default didn't. And both were published by Nintendo, and advertised on Nintendo Direct in the US.

    Nintendo tried the same with Dragon Quest as well, and it never got as popular as Pokemon. Edited May 2014 by Shinta
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  • Avatar for Alan_01987 #19 Alan_01987 4 years ago
    More like "A Final Fantasy more repetitive than any Final Fantasy over a decade."

    Seriously, BDFF is a mediocre RPG, with no lessons learned from SE when it comes to creating immersive and explorable worlds, even gameplay felt padded due to stocking actions with Brave and default. Edited May 2014 by Alan_01987
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  • Avatar for Totalninja #20 Totalninja 4 years ago
    I object to the dig at FFIX's localization. The script is so charming and full of personality that it's one of the main reasons I love the game so much. Were the names of characters and locations botched, or did they just not match up with the localized names from earlier games in the series?

    Besides that, this feature was fantastic. I'm greatly in favor of more long, analytical writing like this.
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  • Avatar for Stealth20k #21 Stealth20k 4 years ago
    This article is enormous.

    FYI, I think the jury is out on wheather things are going ok
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  • Avatar for phatcorns #22 phatcorns 4 years ago
    @jeremy.parish Definitely, I was mostly impressed by the fact even people normally not interested in JRPGs were talking about it. But that could have been a result of people normally interested being so enthusiastic
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #23 SatelliteOfLove 4 years ago
    A remarkable and magnificent article; I will have to take some time to digest all of it. For the time being though, I will say FF is for all intents and purpose, for the last 8 years, been reearning that trust and the same could be said of Square et al as well.

    There was once a time I would buy sight unseen beyond that comforting name on the package; sometimes it would be merely decent (Ehrgeiz), other times very well (Einhänder), and other times magnificent (Vagrant Story). But from running off beloved people (follow people, not IP or companies natch), to making very narrow, almost small-minded games where once flights of fancy existed on the regular, they unearned that trust.

    Will times change? Can they change? Will they fucking let Ito out of the Mobile Mines for GODS SAKE?!?! I guess we'll find out soon.
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  • Avatar for secularsage #24 secularsage 4 years ago
    Great job as always, Jeremy. This sort of writeup is why I miss 1UP and now read USGamer. Keep up the good work!

    It's fascinating to think that the folks driving Final Fantasy are still reeling from years of fan atrophy. One would hope they have a grand plan to right the ship with XV, and yet it would appear they thought XIII-2 and LR:XIII were the right solutions.

    Atlus, in the meantime, seems to have finally found a way to get core JRPG gamers hooked on the SMT / Persona series with smart line extensions and regular rereleases and updates. Bethesda has shown how a modern single player RPG can be a mega-bestseller that can stand toe to toe with the biggest action franchises, and CD Projekt Red has shown how the genre can be more adult.
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  • Avatar for Exhuminator #25 Exhuminator 4 years ago
    Nice article.

    The fact that SQEX missed the boat on bringing both Bravely Default and Type-0 to the states says all I need to know about their current mindset. When Sony sold their stock in the company that was the true acknowledgement of the rotting elephant carcass in the room. This company needs new high level management, and their foreign sales direction team needs to be entirely replaced.
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  • Avatar for Massa1337 #26 Massa1337 4 years ago
    Awesome article, I really enjoyed reading this.
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  • Avatar for ajmrowland #27 ajmrowland 4 years ago
    @Exhuminator Umm, Bravely Default was released in the states.
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  • Avatar for ajmrowland #28 ajmrowland 4 years ago
    @Ohoni I wouldn't mind this as well. Too many big budget games go for photo realism which is impressive in the short term, but the seams are more visible in the long run.
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  • Avatar for Exhuminator #29 Exhuminator 4 years ago
    @ajmrowland Umm, released by Nintendo. Umm, not by SQEX. Umm.
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  • Avatar for joshuacant #30 joshuacant 4 years ago
    The next thing I want from Final Fantasy is a PS3/4/Vita HD remake of XII.
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  • Avatar for tyetheczar #31 tyetheczar 4 years ago
    "What makes for a good Japanese-to-English localization"
    Bringing back Ted Woolsey or the PSX-era localization teams(VIII and IX) would count.
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  • Avatar for tyetheczar #32 tyetheczar 4 years ago
    For Squeenix to get back to their apex, they need to hire more outside writers. I'd like to see someone like, say, Urobuchi Gen(Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero, Song of Saya) do his take on Final Fantasy.

    For gameplay, place Hiroyuki Ito(Final Fantasies IV through VI, VIII, IX and XII+Zodiac Job System)back in the director's chair. He's the one that Sakaguchi said should be the one to direct the franchise.

    This will save the franchise.
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  • Avatar for zhodge #33 zhodge 4 years ago
    @pertusaria I agree and almost couldn't even believe this article's length. It's a relief that at least some authors treat people as readers with an ability to sustain and consider an argument that lasts more than a few paragraphs.

    Although I could really do without all of the annoying block quotes and asides. Even the timeline on the right I found distracting. It might not be as sexy without all of the font changes, sliding panes, or static fixtures, but it would help me focus on an article that was really worth reading.
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  • Avatar for VegaTT #34 VegaTT 4 years ago
    I'd be happy to play another game that looks and feels like FFXII. Even an HD rerelease of XII would be nice.

    Would it be possible for Square-Enix to publish a game developed by Mistwalker, or would that reopen too many old wounds?
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  • Avatar for CronoDAS #35 CronoDAS 4 years ago
    I must be some kind of weirdo, because I really liked FF13 and didn't much like FF13-2. I completely understand why people didn't like it, but the story and gameplay worked just fine for me.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #36 link6616 4 years ago
    This is a superb read. I know it's not conversational, but I really appreciate this kind of work.
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  • Avatar for ThornGhost #37 ThornGhost 4 years ago
    Great article! Well considered and sums up quite a lot of my own feelings regarding Final Fantasy as well.

    One thing I'd like to see more of in newer Final Fantasy games is larger player control over exploration and party skills/equipment. I recently tried to play Final Fantasy XIII again, after giving up on it initially. The lack of control the player has is infuriating and makes the game quite boring.

    The player needs to feel like they've crafted and trained a party; like they've had their own adventure. It doesn't have to be a sandbox, but it should give plenty of flexibility.

    Mix a little bit of Dragon Quest DNA into the pot and I think things would turn out a lot better.
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  • Avatar for pbrand #38 pbrand 4 years ago
    I don't agree with the author's analysis that "FFXIV failed because Square Enix relied on FFXI-age design in an era that no longer wants FFXI-age designs." I played FFXI's retail, FFXIV 1.0's closed beta, and ARR's closed beta.

    FFXIV 1.0's downfall can be put squarely on the decision of Square Enix to create an MMORPG with Crystal Tools (the so-called White Engine early in this article), an engine that is absolutely unfit to support an MMO. This is in contrast to FFXI's engine, which Tanaka & staff specifically designed from the ground up starting in 1999 for an MMORPG. From my own experience MMORPGs on Crystal Tools were absolutely horrendous, without even simple features like hardware mouse.

    My linkshell (guild, for those who have played neither game) and I all excitedly tried out FFXIV 1.0 and were all universally shattered when we saw how bad the engine was. Most of them went back to FFXI, but the nature of the game changed considerably from the Wings of the Goddess expansion onward. A few stayed, saying that while the engine was bad, the game's design around version 1.23 was still good enough to keep them around.

    So I feel obligated to correct the author on this particular detail. Ex-FFXI players would have loyally followed Square into a new decade of MMORPGs if Square did not attempt to cut corners with the engine. The design was fine. The engine was not. And although I respect Yoshi-P (the director of FFXIV: ARR) for his pragmatism and willingness to improve, I feel that he has actually committed a very alienating move.

    He failed to accurately diagnose the engine as the primary issue of FFXIV 1.0 and decided to throw the baby out with the bathwater. FFXIV:ARR offers a good engine and a bad game design to FFXI players. This is simply a mirror of what the original FFXIV faced, and it will only satisfy those who only know World of Warcraft in terms of MMORPGs.Edited May 2014 by pbrand
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  • Avatar for lanmao #39 lanmao 4 years ago
    This was a fantastic read! My problem with FFXIII-2 wasn't the decrease in graphical fidelity, but rather the loss of how buttery smooth the original was. I don't need the prettiest graphics in my jrpgs, but a solid frame rate is a must.
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  • Avatar for Sirhotness #40 Sirhotness 4 years ago
    I don't know if anyone agrees with me but I much prefer turn based battles, way more strategy involved. In FFXIII all I basically did was hit auto battle and if you went through and tried to pick out abilities you would be dead by the time you finished. XIII had a terrible battle system.
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  • Avatar for Kazziyan #41 Kazziyan 4 years ago
    Great article!
    Are you going to post your full "interview" with Kitase? I'm really interested in what he has to say.
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  • Avatar for Mega_Matt #42 Mega_Matt 4 years ago
    Fantastic! Great read.
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  • Avatar for Mega_Matt #43 Mega_Matt 4 years ago
    I'm kind of surprised by how much FF XIII sold. I've never played it so I can't speak on its quality, but just going by its reputation I would have assumed it sold far less.
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  • Avatar for Shinta #44 Shinta 4 years ago
    @pbrand I completely, 100% agree with your post. Most people simply do not have the stamina to get to the truth of this though, especially the press. To them, it's already a demanding story to cover XIV, and it's rebirth in ARR. They can't find any more nuance than that, because it's too demanding on their readers. The story is that ARR is better, so they will stick with that.

    Anyone who played XI knows that XI is better than WoW though, and ARR is basically a WoW clone. The actual truth is that XIV 1.0 was better than ARR right before they took it offline. After they worked on it for a year, and patched it, and fixed it, it was better. If they made it like XI, but with a better engine, and new content, it would be far better than ARR is now.

    The narrative in the press that Yoshi P is amazing is also wrong, but few will see that now, because the story is so tempting to follow in its simplistic form. In reality, he had a cowardly vision for game design; copy WoW. He's a great pragmatist, and great at managing a team with hundreds of people on a deadline. But nothing about what he's done is great creatively. Even his comments in this story are kind of distressing. He's basically saying that his vision was to copy other FF games and just fill this with fan service. If you put up the quotes from Toriyama and Yoshi P in this article and removed the names, I bet 9 out of 10 people would think that Yoshi's came from Toriyama, and vice versa, but that is not the case. Edited 2 times. Last edited May 2014 by Shinta
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  • Avatar for Capn-Sandwich #45 Capn-Sandwich 4 years ago
    Makes sense, and is something I've been inwardly screaming about for years now... Square can do things the way it has in the past, but I'm talking about something dreadfully simple, and less harmful to their overall name: release OTHER games.

    There were all sorts of greats, hits and misses that were wildly different from one another, even in the realm of turn-based battle systems over the course of a decade. We got the Mana series in the early 90s, Chrono Trigger from Squaresoft + Enix in 1995, and Xenogears in '98. There should be no harm in experimenting with stuff under a different name. That's why I was happy to see Mistwalker roll out Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey with timely development cycles, as well as Square-Enix releasing Infinite Undiscovery. None of these games were perfect, but I don't come to games looking for that. If a game is great, that's great! I'm just looking to see what new takes developers have on the combination of gameplay mechanics, storytelling and world-building. Each of these games had at least SOMETHING interesting going on. Lost Odyssey, especially, felt archaic even with a lightly QTE-styles battle system, but the unique story and approach to experience point dropoff made me consider it a personal classic. And that's not even counting the obvious unrelated tests they ran, such as Einhander (classic) and Driving Emotion Type-S (not so much).

    At some point we had Squaresoft, empowered specifically by the breakout success of Final Fantasy, willing to experiment and try new things. Even with some misses out there, their name became synonymous with wonder and quality. Now, it's like they're afraid to release anything with OR without the Final Fantasy name on it so that they either won't disappoint fans, or to guarantee at least SOME sales. In fact, it should be the opposite way around.

    If you get rid of needlessly convoluted stories and jargon (Tetsuya Nomura needs to stick with KH and keep his fingers out of too many pies), this should go over well. Edited July 2014 by Capn-Sandwich
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  • Avatar for barrythompson18 #46 barrythompson18 3 years ago
    "would people want a ff7 remake if battles were changed to real-time?"
    People who think games can still be good (or even games) when they are actually interactive movies are not the people who saved squaresoft by buying the first final fantasy on nes.
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  • Avatar for raphaelbryant31 #47 raphaelbryant31 3 years ago
    Wow I an late to the party. I haven't played a Final Fantasy game in years. Probably about 10 years. In that time, it's been all World of Warcraft, the Diablo series, Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, Elder Scrolls, Fallout 3, The Witcher. Some of the criticism I hear about Final Fantasy is that it's too linear. All rpgs are linear. You're following a certain story. It's how the game developers take you on that ride though. With the western rpgs, they do a better job of putting you in the world. Final Fantasy for me became too restrictive. It feels like you're just going through the motions to get through the story. Sure, in western rpgs you have to go through the motions too. But, you are given choices to make, and consequences for your actions, and you're able to combat enemies freely. It's a more immersive experience.
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  • Avatar for RancidLemons #48 RancidLemons 2 years ago
    This article is amazing.
    I created an account just to be able to comment on articles like this.
    I just found USgamer but I already love this site. :P
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  • Avatar for Jrizzle8769 #49 Jrizzle8769 2 years ago
    @Shinta You do realize FFVII was turn based correct, unless you refer to the remake? I think you actually made the opposite of the point you were trying to make. If it has not been shown once it has been shown multiple times. Highest sellers in the series are all turn based. FFVII and FFX as well as its remake all did outstanding. FFXII is where they tried to start doing things different and you could tell this from the declining sales. While FFXII may may still technically have been turn-based, it was the game you could tell things were about to change for the worse.

    People always scream "we want something different" and "we want innovation", I say don't change something that is already working. Obviously changing the series constantly is doing the franchise no favors. I would absolutely be waiting in line for a mainstream turn based FF game.

    On a side note, trying to turn FF into a more shooter oriented series will fail.It is going to alienate the fan base they do have, or at least some of them. I absolutely despise these games and refuse to purchase a FF game that has imitated this model. I understand money is the objective, but I highly doubt this is the way.
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  • Avatar for györgyczakó86 #50 györgyczakó86 2 years ago
    I hope I don't have to buy a PS4 to play FFVII remake. But if i have to, I will buy one :D

    Best ones VII, IX, VIII, VI they were great at the time... they're still great :D

    The first Final Fantasy was about really a final fantasy, literally. They're not making games like that nowdays, try to think of it as it would be the last game you ever gonna make, and than it will be great. Try to think of it as a moneymaker what "everybody likes" and it will be a crap. Doesn't matter if you think nobody would like it, if it's great story and great MUSIC which is big part than it's already done.
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  • Avatar for dĭscotėx43 #51 dĭscotėx43 2 years ago
    My word that was outstanding. Thank you Mr. Parish for that incredibly well written and deeply informative article.
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  • Avatar for Cepitore #53 Cepitore 10 months ago
    Square needs to hire me as some sort of consultant. It is depressing to read this article from years ago and see what a horrible game FFXV turned out to be. Final Fantasy 1-9 were all great games and then they all went downhill starting with 10. Each one is worse than the last. I know each Final Fantasy is different in its own way, but there is a clear distinction that can be made between 9 and 10. It's as if 1-9 were made by one person, and 10-15 were made by someone else.
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