Final Fantasy XV is not going to salvage this declining series
There was this glorious, nostalgic time back where Final Fantasy was the pinnacle of console RPGs. Sadly, that time has long since faded away. As the series aged it tended to get worse with subsequent entries, while other developers got better at refining the RPG experience in new and more exciting directions.
While the hype for new numbered entry Final Fantasy XV is palpable, so is the push back at what has been shown off so far – and in fact the negative crowd may be in the majority at this point in time, and I count myself among that number.
For a different and more optimistic take on the coming XV, you may want to check out an opposing op/ed on how this game will manage to save the series.
A Constant Black Eye For Square Enix
Even outside skepticism over FF XV's ability to deliver, Square Enix in general has been taking the heat from fans lately. Hitman going episodic at the 11th hour, the Deus Ex: Mankind Divided tiered pre-order fiasco, and the FF VII remake being broken into episodes all haven't endeared the once-beloved company to gamers lately.
Things didn't get better on that front after the recent release delay, with FF XV again being pushed back, this time from September to the end of November. That's a concern, because not only does it mean that after 10 years this game still isn't in a silky smooth release state, it also shows there's problems behind the scenes.
Obviously someone in charge thought the game was good enough to hit homes – why else would they have announced the September 30th release date? - and then somebody else in the company thought better of it and put on the breaks last minute. This is a recurring problem in the development of FF XV, shown most strongly when Square Enix replaced the director midstream, swapping Nomura for Tabata. That's never a good sign, whether we are talking about movie / T.V. development or a video game.
The simple fact that this game started development a decade ago is a big red flag for what the end product is going to look like. While there have been games with overly long development times that went on to succeed, in general anything with a decade worth of development is inevitably going to draw Duke Nuke'em Forever comparisons, and that's not something you ever want for your game franchise.
Looking To The Past
To understand why some fans aren't looking forward to this new edition, you have to look back at what worked and what didn't in this never-ending series. Final Fantasy has typically done best either when there were big leaps forward, or retro looks to the past with drastic changes in style (think FF Tactics), neither of which is particularly on display with XV.
Consider the change in combat and graphical style enhancement from FF I – III to the revered Final Fantasy IV, considered a classic of the series. Everything was refined and tightened up, with a better story and more interesting characters, making it easy to see why that game is remembered more fondly.
Although still using hand drawn pixels before the advent of 3D games, there was even a further boost and refinement to FF VI, which to this day has some of the most gorgeous enemies in the series, not to mention some of the best characters and story Square has ever come up with short of Chrono Trigger.
Next up was the massive change to part VII, and it paid off big. While it hasn't aged well and I personally feel nostalgia clouds how people remember it, there's no question that VII is the most well known, most loved Final Fantasy game of all time. Unfortunately since then, the series has been in decline, continuing a steady downhill slog to the current sad state of affairs.
The cracks started to show in part VIII, with Square trying too hard to be modern and needlessly adding in changes to the combat system just for the sake of having a new combat system (did anyone actually think the draw system was better than what came before?).
X is where there was a more dramatic drop, with an underwater football game that was intensely uninteresting and characters who lacked memorability. XII at least got us back to an actual fantasy universe, but it had that annoying main character and for some reason everyone looked the same.
We hit rock bottom with Final Fantasy XIII, the absolute dregs of the normal numbered series, with not just unlikable characters but even straight up hate-able ones. Couple that with music that didn't fit and a combat system not even worth discussing and you've got the worst game in the franchise.
Why god, why?
Since that disaster, Square Enix has been busy pumping out mobile ports of classic games with “upgrades” that actually make them worse.
Clearly, we need a change in direction to reverse this downward spiral (for a look back at the history of the series, check out our full ranking of the series from best to worst).
Demos Fail To Drop Jaws
I'll admit upon seeing the first real trailer years ago with all those gigantic monsters (back when the game was looking like it was entirely focused on giant bosses) I was actually pretty impressed. While it was clear there wasn't going to be anything amazing story-wise, the graphical polish was impressive and the sense of scale had some serious grandeur.
That all started to change over time as more video was released and the demos landed. Reception to the demos and game conference reveal footage has been less than positive, with many critics referencing clunky controls and a displeasing combat system.
While the Platinum demo isn't supposed to actually be part of the game itself, instead taking place in a dream world, what was on display there didn't inspire confidence with its childish and whimsical feel. Running around grabbing coins while engaging in Kingdom Hearts-style combat definitely isn't what I have in mind when I think of Final Fantasy.
The real time combat in general isn't sitting well with many, although I'm on the fence about it. Final Fantasy doesn't necessarily have to utilize classic ATB turn based combat - we got our fill of that earlier this year with I Am Setsuna, and The Witcher 3 for instance managed to nab a whole lot of critical acclaim with real time battles.
The problem is how this particular real time, action-focused combat is being implemented. The two-button dodge/attack system shown in the demos has been lackluster to say the least, and just doesn't grab me as being particularly fun in the long term.
Outside the combat system, its clear the game world is again trying to go too modern, and it just doesn't work as well in the FF universe. While FF VIII had its moments and is overall worth playing, the whiny emo kid characters were an obvious low point. It looks like that concept is getting taken into overdrive with XV's primarily male cast, with the phrase “Final Fantasy Boy Band Edition” getting bandied about – and there's good reason for it.
Hi, we're here for the My Chemical Romance reunion tryouts...
One major change and cause for concern on the character front is that XV only allows you to control one playable character, and you have to buy DLC to play as the other party members. Throw in the obnoxious voice acting heard in the demos and you've got a recipe for a game where no one will care about the story and just go in for the gameplay.
Speaking of story, it's yet again about nations going to war over crystals with a small group of characters fighting against the larger empire. We've done this how many times now? Come on guys, spice it up. And by that I don't mean add in cars and cell phones.
The Bottom Line
Will Final Fantasy XV sell oodles of copies? Of course it will, it's Final Fantasy and people have been waiting 10 years for this game. That obnoxiously priced ultimate edition (you know, the one that doesn't even have the season pass included...) sold out immediately, so clearly there's fans salivating at the prospect of getting the full game.
Although there will be sales – lots of them – its unlikely there will enough to recoup the costs of a decade of development, hiring orchestras, making a full-length movie, hosting lavish announcement parties, building the full scale car replica, etc.
After the huge costs and the major backlash among the fan base, this entry just might actually live up to the “final” name. XV is going to be the nail in the coffin on this bloated series that has lived long past its prime.
What can Square Enix do next time around to salvage the name if Final Fantasy actually continues? For starters, its time to focus less on the visual aspects and window dressings and more on the story and base gameplay mechanics. We don't need dynamic weather, a day-night cycle, or the ability to push over blocks: we need a story that's comprehensible about characters who aren't annoying and we actually care about.
Since that's unlikely to happen anytime soon (or ever), there's still hope for fans of the genre this year who are going to be massively let down by FF XV. Persona 5 is coming, and shaping up to be an all-around better game. If CRPGs are more your thing, Obsidian is prepped to absolutely knock the genre out of the park with the impending game changer Tyranny.
Let us know what you think – will FF XV manage to salvage the series from the doldrums it finds itself in, or with this bomb hard and finally kill the series off for good?