It’s no secret that Square-Enix isn’t the juggernaut they once were during the PS1 and PS2 eras.
That’s not to say they aren’t a respected company, they just aren’t the be-all, end-all RPG empire that they were.
Most of this happened with Final Fantasy XII, a game that was critically acclaimed by the media, and roughly half of the gaming populous.
The other half think it sucked.
One thing needs to be understood: Final Fantasy is very much like a comic book, and Hironobu Sakaguchi is very much like Stan Lee. When Lee stepped down from greats like X-men, Spiderman, etc. there were other willing writers to step forth and continue the storylines. Likewise, when Sakaguchi got less and less involved the further the series went, other directors stepped in.
The problem is, the people who have stepped forth have delivered games that pale in comparison to their predecessors. They aren’t bad by any means, they just are far too different than the original formula for them to feel like the FF we’ve grown up with. It’s like them giving Frank Miller Batman, and Batman would be nowhere seen in the comic.
Final Fantasy XII had a lot more in common with its online enabled predecessor, Final Fantasy XI (which Sakaguchi had little to no involvement in) rather than the rest of the series. While many of the games before it had broken new ground, changed old ways, Final Fantasy XII just didn’t have the Final Fantasy feel.
Face it: if Final Fantasy XIII suffers the same divide FFXII did, the series is over. It will go the way of Tomb Raider, Army Men, and whatever else, gradually being unsold and eventually canned. The secret’s out-people aren’t happy with Final Fantasy’s direction. Final Fantasy XIII is the series’ last shot if it doesn’t turn itself around.
It won’t be immediate, after XIII there will be more games, XIII very well could be the stab wound that causes the most bleeding.
Here are a list of items that need to happen to ensure the series doesn’t tank.
1: A Storyline That Makes Sense
Compared to several JRPGs past and current, FFXII’s storyline wasn’t bad by any means, but it didn’t hold a candle to anything before it either. This was probably the single most disappointing aspect of XII. Half the characters could have been cut, the protagonist had absolutely no conflict resolution at the end (no, he really didn’t), the world was confusing, the artifacts were boring, and anything from the mythology prior became a gunship.
The game already was going to be different in development, we knew that. Sakaguchi was gone at this point and Yashinori Kitase (the man responsible for Final Fantasy VII’s “overrated” storyline) was off doing Kingdom Hearts. That left things for Yasumi Matsuno, the man who made Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story, two games that had some of the more thought provoking storylines conceived for a video game.
Then he left and we got Akitoshi Kawazu, in the words of Pat R, That Kawazu. Who is Kawazu?
Saga Frontier. Need I say more?
The storyline was a mess. Nethecite and magicite were too confusing, Vain took a few steps back to the character of vice in RPGS (the devil, a character that does things just to be evil). Is Kawazu to blame? Not really, he just made sure that whatever fast track to convoluted was met it dead center.
XIII needs to be simple. It’s not Metal Gear, it’s not even Final Fantasy Tactics for that matter. In storylines, less is more. Look at Final Fantasy X, guy gets sucked into different world in time of crisis? Where have gamers not heard that? At least with all its shortcomings, Square made you CARE. XII didn’t do that. Towards the end you aren’t feeling sad about departing with these characters, getting their final weapons and getting even with that jerk final boss. No, you just want to finish the game so you can say you finished it. Drop the artifacts, drop the dumb characters and most importantly keep Cid a good guy.
2: Change the battle system, but make sure it has that Final Fantasy feel
Here comes the hatemail…Gambits suck. People don’t buy games to set the A.I. and have it doing everything for them.
“But Patrick, don’t people have to micromanage anyways?”
Why yes they do, but it still is ridiculous. If you don’t like menus, don’t play JRPGs. If you don’t like managing a character, don’t play RPGs. Don’t sit and bitch about how Final Fantasy games are archaic, if they are, don’t buy them. Because FFXII’s combat system was worse than if the game ever came out.
Oh and the argument of “You can play it without gambits” is a total lie. The setup for the battle system with the game being in real time makes micromanaging like that impossible. Square felt the need to shove gambits down our throat by making the game played any other way impossible.
Saying that the usual FF mold is boring is like saying Mario jump on a goomba is redundant. Because everyone whines about playing updated sequels with little improvements Square Enix tries to improve it but keep it accessible.
XIII seems to be on the right track though. Gambits are there, but they are streamlined a lot better. The battles aren’t taking place right in the field due to memory limitations, and they actually look like they will need a lot of user input to succeed. For now, this problem seems addressed.