2014 is shaping up to be the Year of Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy X and X-2 HD launch in March; the third game in the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, Lightning Returns, is coming out in February; and a new, next-gen title has been announced for the Xbox One and PS4.
But I doubt I’ll be playing any of them.
I was a big fan of the series in my youth (I’m talking weird comedic fanfic here), but Final Fantasy XIII alienated me from the series and it doesn’t look like Final Fantasy XV is doing much to change my mind.
Yes, they are always ridiculous melodramas, but the games always did well with immersion and world-building. They had to, because those things clocked 100 hours of gameplay if you did everything. And I did everything. I’m a notorious completionist to this day, and it’s all Final Fantasy’s fault.
When the PS3 came out, no one was more excited for Final Fantasy XIII than I was. I watched the trailers, pored over the screenshots, and it was the first PS3 title that I had to pre-order. But when I finally got to play it, I hated almost everything about it – the lack of an open world, the battle system, the setting, and most importantly for me, the characters.
In theory, FFXIII should have been a great game: a female-driven Final Fantasy title about one girl’s love for her little sister and her desire to do anything to save her. It should have been something I could relate to. But it’s bloated with stunted, immature characters that I actively hated and had no desire to spend time with. While Lightning is supposedly the main character, you spend much more time (or what felt like it anyway), with Hope, a 15-year-old boy. When Snow proposes to Serah in the middle of the fireworks display, I booed – out loud – because those are two kids who absolutely should not be getting married. And also GET OUT OF THE FIREWORKS YOU’LL SET YOURSELF ON FIRE.
Sazh is not only kind of racist, but also a pointless character that doesn’t seem to fit into the story. Lightning is the epitome of the Strong Female Character: a wooden, charmless cipher with a sword. The whole enterprise made me feel like a cranky old lady. I eventually got sick of grinding and the incredibly boring side quests and traded it in for Dragon Age: Origins (a.k.a. the best decision ever), and never looked back. I never played any of the sequels, though people have assured me that they are significantly better.
Final Fantasy XV harkens back to the very early FF titles, with a plot about a young king (Noctis) who has to save his kingdom’s crystal from enemies. But stylistically, it is not medieval-based fantasy like FFIX or FFVI. It looks more like FFVII or FFVIII. I doubt that is unintentional.
There’s no denying that what we’ve seen of the game so far is visually stunning. Graphically speaking, Final Fantasy has long been at the forefront of each new generation. But beautiful, cutting edge graphics just don’t cut it for me anymore. I need characters I can identify with if I’m going to put time and money into a game.
Unfortunately, FFXV looks like it will be a massive sausage fest. I won’t say that the series has the best or the most nuanced female characters, but it has had them in abundance, something that is still pretty rare in games in general. It was definitely a factor that drew me to Final Fantasy as a tween. So far, FFXV boasts three women total, and I’m not sure how many of them are party members. Most of the characters look like teenage boys who think they’re tough, and if there is one person I don’t wanna play in a game anymore, it’s a teenage boy (see also: Dads). As the age of the average gamer rises, Final Fantasy’s emphasis on adolescence doesn’t do it any favours.
FFXV also departs even farther from the series’ turn-based origins. Trailers depict Noctis latching onto the sides of buildings with his giant sword and fighting there. Final Fantasy is firmly in action game territory now. Which is fine. Turn-based combat has been out of style for years, so it makes sense that Square Enix would want to move in the other direction. It just feels like the focus in the new titles has been too much, “How can we keep this series current?” and less on “What did fans like about it in the first place?” Unfortunately, it sounds like Square Enix doesn’t seem to recognize what made the series great.
But maybe it’s not the franchise changes that have alienated me. Maybe I’ve simply grown up, and expect more from games than Final Fantasy wants to give me. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that this former fan’s RPG dollars will be put towards Dragon Age: Inquisition instead.