The Future Production of Final Fantasy

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A while ago Wired did what I would call a fairly hyperbolic article declaring the Final Fantasy franchise dead. While simply disagreeing with it isn’t hard, I think it’s definitely worth speculating where the series might head as we enter another console generation.

Yeah “dead” is probably an overstatement. Final Fantasy is really more like “seriously wounded” in terms of popular perception. One of the Wired article’s problems is that it’s probably based on a lot of the writer’s personal opinion about games in the franchise, like its criticism of Final Fantasy X-2 for instance. I haven’t played X-2 so I won’t talk about it, but I know a lot of people who enjoyed it, and more importantly that game sold quite well as far as I know. The point is, it’s useless to talk about which games you think sucked. “Dead” or “alive” for the franchise is really more about its market potential.

Final Fantasy XIII is one of the fastest-selling games in the franchise, doing somewhere near six million copies sold, but bad word of mouth post-release blunted sales of XIII-2 which failed to live up to X-2 commercially. Furthermore, Final Fantasy XIV was such a disaster Square Enix had to make the game free for months and essentially spend a year rebuilding it. Compounded with XIII’s absurd development cycle and Versus XIII’s cycle reaching Duke Nukem Forever proportions, Square Enix basically stumbled through this past console generation like a lot of Japanese publishers.

I wrote about this a long time ago here, but I think Final Fantasy’s biggest problem has been Square Enix’s simple ability to produce console games. I really suggest anyone interested in this subject go read Gamasutra’s postmortem on XIII where the game’s producers admit to a lot that went wrong with the project.

Firstly, Square Enix tried to create its first middleware engine while also making the game, and they obviously weren’t able to do it, as they’ve already begun work on yet another engine. Most importantly though, Square Enix wasn’t able to actually agree upon what they wanted XIII to be until very late in its development when they put the demo together. The most frightening fact that I think people miss is that XIII was Square Enix’s first internally-developed PS3 game — and it came out in Japan just after the console’s third birthday.

Another mistake I think Square Enix made was planning out the whole “Fabula Nova Crystalis” mythology — essentially planning for XIII to be a franchise before the game even came out. Final Fantasy VII became its own franchise because the base game is immensely popular, not because Square Enix planned it that way. Carrying a failed franchise plan on with XIII-2 and now Lightning Returns is probably siphoning resources from what might be better projects.

Back to tech, on handhelds Square Enix actually flourished this past console generation. The company released many Final Fantasy spinoffs and other RPGs on the DS and PSP that were critically well-received, and they’re starting to continue this trend on the 3DS with games like Bravely Default and Kingdom Hearts 3D.

This seems to be the story of most Japanese game developers over the last several years: they struggle with creating the graphics engines and art assets standard for PS3 and Xbox 360 games, but continue business-as-usual for handheld games with art assets equivalent to the PS2 era. There’s of course Square Enix’s famous “HD towns are hard,” quote. The question is: can the company turn the corner as another increase in visual quality approaches with the onset of new hardware? That seems to be the indication we got from seeing Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III at E3 2013.

Well, to me it’s unclear how much of XV was actual gameplay, and what I’ve seen so far looks like it’s pretty much the same game Versus XIII always was throughout development. What I’m saying is, I think XV is little more than the current-gen Versus XIII ported to next-gen hardware with a new name. Symbolically Square Enix is cutting off the mistakes of the Fabula Nova Crystalis mythology and trying to start anew, but with existing assets and game code.

I still don’t think of XV as the next Final Fantasy, but as a spinoff taking the place of the next FF for now. That’s why I’m not angry it’s so unconventional for the mainline series, because it really isn’t a mainline game. That said, if it doesn’t disappoint, it’ll definitely begin to repair the brand.

What I’m still waiting for is to see if Square Enix’s work on the Luminous engine comes to fruition. What I want to know is if we’ll see perhaps a Final Fantasy XVI that looks like the Agni’s Philosophy trailer. The company still knows how to design good games, it just needs to get its production pipeline in order in my opinion. If they can actually put together a good toolset for next-gen hardware that will actually let them work on the games, then I think we might get great Final Fantasy games on consoles again.

BULLETS:

  • Finished up The Swapper. The game is chock full of moments like that time in Die Hard With A Vengeance when Bruce Willis and Samuel Jackson simultaneously exclaimed “Exactly Four Gallons!”
  • Gamasutra – Updates – Bayonetta’s combat design philosophy: “Creating a direct link to your brain” http://t.co/TXUJvQgIqs
  • Somehow I have a bad feeling Senran Kagura will somehow make it to release without getting the same bad press about its character designs that Dragon’s Crown did.
  • Rayman Legends is out in a month?!
  • Gender matters – http://t.co/y5Nk0ic0Gz
  • Crazy Buffet 2 – “Live ever week like it’s Shark Week.” – bit.ly/13UxKgN
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