I’m losing faith in Final Fantasy.
I have to admit, my history with the series isn’t as long as others’ — I grew up in a Nintendo 64 household. While I still vividly remember sitting cross-legged in my cousin’s living room, staring awestruck at the TV as he played through the opening hours of Final Fantasy VII, I didn’t become a card-carrying member of the Final Fantasy Fan Club until the demo for Final Fantasy X. I fought my brothers to play through it first, and then watched them play through it afterwards, soaking it all in — the cut scenes, the gameplay, the music.
What a difference a decade makes.
There’s no denying this generation has been a difficult one for Final Fantasy fans (and Squeenix fans in general). It started off well, they announced like 700 games in the ‘Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy XIII’ series, and I was excited to soak up as much next-gen Final Fantasy as I could. Then the games (well, some of them) were actually released. There was Final Fantasy XIII — with its the brain aneurysm-inducing plotline and hallway-cut scene-level grind-cut scene-hallway structure. There was the direct sequel nobody wanted — pitched as Squeenix learning from its mistakes, but really just a chance for them to make a whole raft of new ones and blame fans for them. There was the no-show Final Fantasy Versus XIII from the Kingdom Hearts II team (and while we’re on the subject, the no-show Kingdom Hearts III). And let’s not even start on Final Fantasy XIV and the whole copy-paste environment thing.
Going into E3 this year, Square Enix really needed to wow me. The focus was going to be on next-gen, it was a chance to put the mess that was this generation behind them, to start afresh. And watching their initial announcements, I thought they were doing just that. They announced Final Fantasy Versus XIII was now Final Fantasy XV and a next-gen title, and that Kingdom Hearts III was coming. Symbolically, it was a big move. The problem last-gen was that they committed to a suite of games that they couldn’t deliver, and when they did, the games weren’t very good. Renaming Versus to XV felt like them leaving the strategy of Fabula Whateva Crystallis behind them, focusing on one game, getting it done… and giving it a title that wasn’t mind-numbingly stupid. The fact that Kingdom Hearts III was that and not Kingdom Hearts: 37/Dream Chain Recollections 1.5 Mix gave me hope.
Squeenix wasn’t just saying it was learning… it was actually learning.
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I didn’t want to lose hope in a Squeenix resurrection, but the gameplay trailer for Final Fantasy XV… I told myself it was unfair to judge a game on a four-minute gameplay ‘first-look’. But I felt uneasy. I’d only seen four minutes, sure, but there was a lot of running down hallways (now with stairs!) and it just looked like a game I’d have very little actual control over. I hoped I was wrong. I rewatched the trailer until I had convinced myself that I was wrong.
And then yesterday brought with it the Final Fantasy XV story and character roster reveal, and I gave up.
What annoyed me most about the plot for Final Fantasy XIII wasn’t that it was too complicated. It wasn’t. It was just terribly told. It was that essay we’ve all written at some point in our lives where we overused our thesauruses to cover up the fact that our ideas were a little undercooked. Basically, Squeenix was trying way too hard to seem smart (or rather, Squeenix laboured too intensely to foster the perception of unrivalled intelligence). As a writer, it is not a compliment when somebody says they don’t understand what you’ve written: it means you’ve failed to communicate your ideas efficiently. Told with smaller words, in more realistic voices (and less jive-talking stereotypes), I firmly believe that Final Fantasy XIII could have been successful, at least from a narrative standpoint.
What worries me is, Final Fantasy XV looks like the same-old stupid dressed up as smart.
The only crystal left to the world lies in the Kingdom of Lucis. Upon striking a peace with the garrison state of Niflheim, Lucis rejoices in having at last brought the cold war to a close. Their celebrations, however, are premature. Under the guise of amity, Niflheim dispels the anti-armament runewall and launches a full-scale invasion of the kingdom. The peaceful lives Crown Prince Noctis and his entourage once knew are consumed by the flames of war as they struggle to mount a resistance.
From what I’ve gathered from the trailer, whoever has possession of the final crystal plays a huge role in the story (it isn’t just something to, say, mention in the first line of an official synopsis and then forget about entirely). And I’m all for trying to foster a tone, but come on, “the peaceful lives Crown Prince Noctis and his entourage once knew are consumed by the flames of war”? “Striking a peace”? That’s just bad writing. I mean, it’s all just terrible. You could simplify it to:
Niflheim terminates a peace treaty and launches a full-scale invasion of the Kingdom of Lucis. Now Prince Noctis and his friends must mount a resistance to protect their kingdom, and the last crystal.
It’s half as long, and it’s easier to comprehend, which is what you’d want from a synopsis, no? People criticised Final Fantasy XIII for using names like l’Cie and fal’Cie, claiming they’re what made the game’s narrative difficult to get into. They certainly didn’t help, but ultimately, it’s the stuff that comes between the ridiculous character/setting names that affect understanding. I can handle three consonants in a row in Niflheim, so long as the words that come before and after it tell the story the way a normal human being would.
I was going to have a go at translating the character bios into Humanspeak, but honestly, it just hurts too much. I don’t know if it’s the fault of the initial writers, or the translation from Japanese to English, but for Square Enix to survive in the West, something needs to change, because with every day that passes, I recognise that boy who wanted to wrestle his cousin’s controller out of his hands a little less.
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But hey, we can dress Lightning as Cloud. That fixes everything… right?