Final Fantasy: What Went Wrong (Part Two of Three)
Part Two – “Experimentation!! In the name of… progress?”
As I said in part one of this retrospective I would eventually come around to addressing the pressing issues surrounding one of gaming’s most treasured franchises: Final Fantasy. Alas, this follow-up has been very much overdue – I’ve had a lot of work to be getting on with at University so this subject was put on the back-burner!
During part one (available via the link above) I discussed in minor detail several titles from “The Golden Age”, and what made them warrant their cult status amongst gamers worldwide. I also mentioned that part two, and three, will go into some of the more ‘questionable’ recent entries in the series and analyze what has made them raise eyebrows and dash expectations, and if they really deserve such scrutiny.
Before I get started however I need to mention something which I will come back to at a later date. In the year 2001 , shortly after copies of Final Fantasy X had shipped to American and European shores SquareSoft had attempted to get a foothold in Cinematic Animation and to get the Final Fantasy series onto the silver screen with Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Unfortunately for Square the result was less-than-satisfactory and the maiden voyage of the company’s cinematic ambitions proved to be a decision so costly that it almost bankrupted the entire company. In order to prevent a total collapse Square would eventually be forced to merge with fellow developers Enix; whom most remember for the Star Ocean series (I’ll get to that someday!).
Kingdom Hearts (2002) – PlayStation 2
This first entry is an odd one to say the least, with the name not being “Final Fantasy” or some iteration of such being in the title being the least of what makes this game really stand out in the Square-Enix library. Kingdom Hearts is the result of what happened when Square and Disney got together and decided to co-operate and make a groundbreaking RPG / Hack-and-Slash game which incorporated elements from both parties. During it’s production gamers were understandably sceptical about the direction Square was going when they agreed to partner with Disney to make a game. All doubts were dashed when the game came out and it ended up being pretty damn good. The story follows a youth called Sora and his quest to find his friends after his world is destroyed by dark entities called “The Heartless”. Along the way Sora, with his new found allies Donald Duck and Goofy, visits numerous worlds from the Disney universe and encounters various characters from the Final Fantasy universe. As the trio fight their way across the universe they start to realize that there is much more at stake than just defeating “The Heartless”…
Don’t let the kiddy vibe fool you here: This one is a tough nut to crack.
The combat system starts out as simple but solid, and only gets better the more the player progresses. The characters speak for themselves and anyone who grew up watching Disney movies, which I’m pretty sure is about 95% of the world’s population, will agree that they are portrayed accurately. The plot throws some pretty spectacular curve-balls throughout the narrative and by it’s conclusion goes places which certainly would have not made it into your average Disney movie. Word-of-mouth quickly shot Kingdom Hearts into gamers good-books and the series is still going to this day having amassed a considerable fan-base.
The cross-over people thought they would never see let alone see work brilliantly, kudos to Kingdom Hearts!
Final Fantasy X-2 (2003) – PlayStation 2
Okay, here’s where things get really controversial. I already let me thoughts on this game’s origins be known during part one of this retrospective so I won’t go into it again. Final Fantasy X-2 serves as a direct sequel to Final Fantasy X (the first of it’s kind ever I might add), taking place a mere two years after the events of the first game. The premise here is that former-summoner Yuna is brought out of her tranquil life on Besaid Island by her cousin Rikku with the revelation that Tidus, the protagonist of the previous story whom Yuna fell in love with, might be alive somewhere out in the world arises. On their travels Yuna and Rikku are also joined by Paine, a darkly mysterious woman with motivations of her own. The story primarily revolves around the trio hunting for “spheres” which contain recordings of the past in the hope of finding more clues to the whereabouts of Tidus, if he is even alive at all.
To say this game caused a divide in opinion when it was released is an almighty understatement. X-2 was unlike anything else the series had come out with thus far. The story was undeniably more ‘feminine’ thanks to it’s female-studded cast, a cast constantly compared to Charlie’s Angels, and more buoyant light-hearted feeling. The game mechanics were vastly different from the turn-based system series veterans were accustomed to but not necessarily worse. There was an huge abundance of side-content which supplemented the main story, a story which contained some really weird and some really goofy moments.
I think it’s safe to say that the majority of Final Fantasy fans look down on X-2 with some disdain for these very reasons but really… the game isn’t bad at all.
No! I’m serious! I understand what Square-Enix were trying to do here, I really do! I feel that Square-Enix were trying to do something completely new, fresh, and unique for the series; a series which had undeniably become formulaic with some of it’s brooding character tropes and overly downcast stories. Whereas X featured a strikingly grim storyline and deep cognitive plot points X-2 proved to be a much brighter outing with more upbeat characters, strong and confident female protagonists, and an open-ended conclusion. It was fascinating to see how Spira was dealing with the winds of change sweeping across the world following the monumental revelations which unfolded towards the end of X, and seeing just how civilization would react to the debunking and vilification of all religion.
Certainly not the best entry in the series but still doesn’t deserve the flak it gets from gamers, some of which were probably too insecure at the time to embrace anything even slightly feminine in their games. If a guy has a problem with X-2 being “too girly” that’s not the game’s problem, that’s his… guys aren’t the only ones who are gamers!
Final Fantasy XI – (2004) (2002 in Japan)
Another entry in the series which has caused controversy and has created divisions… then again… which ones haven’t by this point? Final Fantasy XI was the first online entry in the series, an “MMORPG” (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). For this very reason many fans of the series have discredited this game and do not consider it part of the series even though it blatantly bears the series moniker title. XI came out alongside the better known MMORPG World of Warcraft but that did not stop it from amassing a sizable player base to warrant it’s continuation.
The core game play of XI pans out like many other MMORPGs: an emphasis on player choice through a “job” system, crafting, questing, and various other events which help keep things fresh. XI is unique amongst other MMO’s however because it features a strong storyline and premise which only gets deeper with each passing expansion of the game world. XI has had numerous expansions over the years which have helped prolong it’s lifespan: Rise of the Zilart (2004), Chains of Promathia (2004), Treasures of Aht Urghan (2006), Wings of the Goddess (2007), Heroes of Abyssea (2010), and a new expansion Seekers of Adoulin due for a March 2013 release.
XI is still going strong to this day, quite a feat for a game that is a decade old!
The same cannot be said for it’s “successor” however… I’ll get to that in part three!
That concludes part two! Keep an eye out for part three where I will go into the more vilified entries in the series!