An FF7 fanboy speaks out . . . .
In the beginning, there was Final Fantasy.
Then Square looked upon the game, and saw that it was good, and said: let there be more.
And thus there was Final Fantasy II, III, IV . . . . and *long story short* none of them were really that good. Forgive me, my fellow FF fans, but compared with the stuff available in that time period – Ultima, A Bard’s Tale, Willow to name a few – FF didn’t stand a chance. It followed a very basic cookie-cutter medieval fantasy plot, all-too-often featuring Mystic Crystals That Preserve the Entire World.
Yes, I know there are fans who can recite a whole string of goodies – deep character backstory, stories that explore character’s passions, emotions, and psyches – but take a few steps back and it’s painfully obvious that Square basically followed the “sequel, sequel, sequel” pattern that ultimately turns even the best games to cheese. 6 games followed the first, every one of which where’s you’re leading a bunch of [often reluctant] heroes against an evil antagonist. Often the grand plot was lost coherence after multiple immersions in the characters’ backstories. The same plot theme is reused shamelessly with only marginal changes; the same names show up in series after series (Cid, for example, has been around since the 1990’s). And . . . did I mention the Crystals? Please, save me from the Crystals. No wonder the antagonists want to destroy the world in the early FF games; they must have been sick of crystals.
I will not deny the series’ many advancements, nor will I deny its commercial success. After all, this is THE rpg franchise – the very name “Final Fantasy” still beats, hands-down, all your Dragon Ages and Fallouts. Final Fantasy designers pioneered battle systems, job systems, materia, and a hundred other things that marked Final Fantasy as a unique series from a gameplay point of view.
Then came FF1V, which featured more crystals, but brought home the concept of dramatic storytelling to RPGs. The complex story turned what would have been slush fantasy into a deeply enjoyable ride. It set standards for RPGs, even though the English translations were absolutely terrible.
Time passes. Along came FFVI, which was a landmark. 14 playable characters; dystopian societies; a world with both technology-and-magic; protagonists and antagonists with unique, polished characters and backstories- FFVI cemented Final Fantasy’s reputation for massive worlds and massive stories.
The plots got more complex.
FFVII came, and turned the world upside down. Cloud was born; as was Sephiroth, Barret, Vincent, Nanaki and Aerith, characters that, years later, are the undisputed icons of the Final Fantasy series. I shall not describe Final Fantasy 7 – if you don’t know what it is, you should not be reading this. It was so good and so successful that it became the flagship title of the series. It brought to life an incredible, steampunk future in 2.5 / 3D that stole the hearts of thousands of gamers. Even today, years later, FFVII is the undisputed best. Skirts in the series have gotten shorter, and graphics have gotten infinitely better, but I would gladly trade all that graphical goodness for the blocky 3D of FFVII. All hail Cloud!
It was followed by a string of successes: FFVIII to X. But here we see, slowly, the pots getting overcomplicated, and the series returning to its roots of Crystals and whatnot. While each of these game is undeniably a masterpiece in its own right, a puzzling question remains: why did Square Enix abandon the world of Cloud and Sephiroth? I fully understand the need to do new things; there must always be new worlds to explore. And FVIII was an acceptable change after the darker tones of the seven games that preceded it; it took all of FFVII’s strong points and made them better.
Yet in subsequent series, Square Enix did not add to the world of Midgar, save in Crisis Core [which was a masterpiece] and a brief “collection” built around VII. Stunningly few main games have been launched following the icons of the FF series. Instead of Cloud, or his successors, we got the crap of FF X-2 [which was unbelievable bullshit; I felt sick after the first two minutes. Was it a game or an excuse for animated softcore porn and shabby controls?].
XI saw a deviations, and a fall in standards; XII recovered; and then the series hit an all-time low with FFXIV.
Plots got too complex, convoluted and unoriginal. Crystals came back into the mix.
Squeare Enix, this is a plea: don’t be stupid. We don’t want Lightning, hot as she may be. Bring back Sephiroth; bring back Angeal; bring back Barret. Give us the greatest RPG characters of all time. Don’t abandon the world of Midgar; it made you, and it brought us to you. Return to it.