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How Square Enix Can Save the Final Fantasy Franchise

Updated on June 14, 2013
The Final Fantasy Franchise
The Final Fantasy Franchise | Source

They great things don't last forever. Sadly it is most often a very true statement people must live with every day. However, there are several examples throughout history, in every walk of life, that prove great things that disappear can always come back as good or better than ever. That is the hope gaming fans have for the iconic RPG franchise Final Fantasy. After years spent in what many call "mediocrity," whispers have begun to spread rumors about the classic title disbanding. Hopefully it doesn't have to come to that.

Final Fantasy VII proved change is good

Cloud from Final Fantasy VII
Cloud from Final Fantasy VII | Source

To better understand where things went wrong, it is best to know the history. The franchise was started in 1987 by the Square company. Ironically it was a last-ditch effort to find success in the gaming industry as they faced bankruptcy. Drawing inspiration from other classic games like Dragon Quest and Legend of Zelda; developer Hironobu Sakaguchi admitted the game was his last effort. If it failed he would've tried a different vocation. Thankfully it didn't come to that. Final Fantasy sold 400,000 copies, an impressive display considering console gaming was still in infancy back then.

From there the popularity of the series took off, becoming a staple of the RPG genre featuring stand alone titles, constantly evolving battle systems, new characters and new stories to engage the masses. By 1994 the sales had climbed to 3.68 millions units sold for Final Fantasy VI. It was wondered if the franchise could get any better.

For a brief moment it felt it couldn't The VI title was, and still is considered the best by a lot of die hard fans. Some wondered back then if it was the culmination of the series since no new title was released for three years after it. Then the Square announced the release of their next title Final Fantasy VII on the Sony Playstation. It was a complete change from the traditional games of the Nintendo and Super Nintendo generations. The game featured revolutionary new graphics, a rich soundtrack developed by series giant Nobuo Uematsu, a battle system not yet seen before and a story that is still celebrated almost two decades later. To date the game has sold over 10 million copies worldwide, making it one of the most successful titles in history.

What no one talked about at the time was actually how big a risk Square took. Not only did they test the patience of fans by waiting so long to release the game. They also poured a lot of money and manpower into a series of changes that no other RPG had attempted at that point in time. The willingness to push the boundaries and the faith they had in their product was one of the hallmarks of that era. Follow-up titles Final Fantasy VIII and IX saw similar success as did X when the franchise jumped to the next generation Playstation 2.

Enix Merger and the Long Layoff

The five races of Final Fantasy XI
The five races of Final Fantasy XI | Source

Where things started to go wrong was when Square merged with fellow successful video game company Enix. Square Enix proved no less audacious and forward-thinking. Years before the blockbuster success of World of Warcraft, they introduced the very first Massive Multiplayer Online-Role Playing Game (MMORPG) in the guise of Final Fantasy XI. While it earned praise for many of its accomplishments in advancing the gaming genre, it also drew the ire from critics for a clunky control system, long installations and difficulty in connection with primary console gamers who couldn't connect properly online through their PS2s. It was not a good omen for a franchise that up to that point could do nothing wrong.

Where things started to fall apart was on the buildup to Final Fantasy XII. The game itself turned out to be a commercial success. What began to turn players against the series wasn't the game itself but the four year it took to come out. Toss in a complicated battle system and often tedious storyline and it was clear cracks had begun to show in the foundation. So when it took another three years to release Final Fantasy XIII, a game that took away the open world exploration of the previous titles, Western gamers had enough despite the fact the game was critically acclaimed for graphics and story.

Final Fantasy XIV signals a need for change

If the primary fan base wasn't ready to admit the series had gone stale, then the release of Final Fantasy XIV certainly did it. For the first time really in the history of the series, a title received more negative than positive reviews. Critics hammered the game for everything from a broken structure to numerous bug issues, and lack of depth. Experienced gamers saw it as a title with potential but felt unfinished. Square Enix issued two apologies for the flub and company leadership readily admitted it set the entire series back. Regardless, it was as close to rock bottom as the franchise has gotten, signaling the need for new ideas to bring back the fans. The only problem is how do they do that?

Kingdom Hearts points the way

Source

Salvation isn't too far off. One thing going for Square Enix is their long history of success and a willingness to change something when it doesn't work. A major gripe among Western fans is that the series has become too predictable and less easy to separate one title from another. Every game is the same terms of how battles are fought, won and how characters evolve. It is a hallmark of the series, yes, but without the sprawling world to explore and the characters to fill it, the games seems limited in what they can do. It is for that reason that games like Mass Effect, Borderlands, Elder Scrolls and Fallout have taken over in the RPG landscape.

Not that everything is doom and gloom. Square Enix already has the answer to their problems. It's just a matter of recognizing how to take advantage of it. By far their most popular title over the past ten years is the Kingdom Hearts series in collaboration with Disney. It's revolutionary battle system featured a nostalgic feel similar to Super Mario 64 but encompassed the best parts of the classic Final Fantasy style including world exploration. It's sequel, Kingdom Hearts II, capitalized on this success and drew rave reviews from critics around the world. Is it too big of a stretch to think the next Final Fantasy titles can't take advantage of this?

Conclusion

In the end, Final Fantasy won over fans with heart. Graphic are nice and pretty, but they don't mean much unless the characters connect. That is something the more recent titles haven't done. Does anybody look upon Vaan, Lightning or the nameless avatars of XIV with the same affection as Cloud, Squall and Terra? Doubtful. That has to change. The franchise has to change. That is if they want to reclaim their rightful spot as the best RPG series of all time.

Which game best shows how Final Fantasy can revamp itself?

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    • NornsMercy profile image

      Chace 4 years ago from Charlotte, NC

      I want Final Fantasy to be as great as it used to be--SO BADLY. I'm not a picky gamer.. but I just wasn't feeling the last few ones even though I tried. Here's to hoping it'll pick up starting with XV! :) Voted up ++

    • Chris Qu profile image

      Chris Qu 4 years ago

      11 and 14 are only loosely related to the rest of the franchise. They received numerals only for sales purposes. But that aside, 12 did something very, very new. And 13 did something very, very new. Neither of them were particularly good games though -- because not all change is good.

      The last Final Fantasy to use a traditional JRPG battle system was Final Fantasy X, which is hailed as a masterpiece. You say the series is stale? Well I certainly agree with that. But it got stale *after* it started trying to do new things that weren't any good. Final Fantasy X was traditional just like 9, 8, 7, and 6. It sold 8 million copies, and is considered one of the best games on the Playstation 2.

      There's nothing wrong with exploring new genres of games. But a Final Fantasy shouldn't play like Mass Effect. It definitely shouldn't play like Borderlands. And... Assassin's Creed? What, even, is that about?

      Final Fantasy XV looks to be something completely new, taking some pages out of Kingdom Heart's book. Hopefully it will be a good game. But if it's a good game, that will be by virtue of solid design. Just changing it for the sake of being different is not enough to do it.

      How should Final Fantasy revamp itself? By going back to its roots. Failing that, retire it for a bit. There's nothing wrong with developing new properties, after all.

    • Dvd Zermeno Perez profile image

      David ZermeƱo 4 years ago from Mexico

      I love Kingdom Hearts and that game is really a jewel in the gaming industry, It's the only game with that kind of gaming system, mixing all the characters to be awesome and with and iconic and at the same time weird mix with Disney, I love that game. It's funny how S.Enix used to be at the point of bankrupt and FF franchise saved them, and now S.Enix again is playing safe in the gaming industry, staying with just the same crowd and fans, they're not being innovative or creative. I feel sorry for them because FF7 was a boom!! but I don't know what to say to them right now...they need to review the actual gaming industry and step up, searching a new and creative game mixing all the key things of the company.

    • JohnGreasyGamer profile image

      John Roberts 4 years ago from South Yorkshire, England

      "How should Final Fantasy revamp itself? By going back to its roots. Failing that, retire it for a bit. There's nothing wrong with developing new properties, after all."

      I find this hard to believe, and I have evidence. While I agree with the rest of your comment, I've seen enough repetition and innovation additions in the Crash Bandicoot franchise to know better. Regardless of if Naughty Dog or Konami/Universal held the CB license, the games still wouldn't evolve for the better, and even if they did, they'd only be baby steps, and that won't do in the long run. You only need to compare CB3: Warped to the GBA games and Wrath of Cortex to get my meaning. Not everything new is perfect.

      Now to the meat of this page, the Hub itself. For the most part, I agree that FF is one of the greatest and longest running RPG franchises of all time. But even though it's ran for 14 official games as well as multiple sidequels, prequels and even racing games, it can't go on for much longer.

      I'd say "Just make every future FF game an FF7", but that's not the answer (see above my views on CB). I'd say Enix brought more players to the franchise, yes, but it didn't bring new FF players - just people who wanted something completely different to what Squaresoft's original intentions were.

      Voted up and interesting. I raise my glass to a better Final Fantasy.

    • EJ Lambert profile image
      Author

      EJ Lambert 4 years ago from Chicago, IL

      The problem isn't that the games are so much bad as they're stale. The methods and stories have become jumbled into the same type. They need something fresh. That was why FFVII was such a hit.

    • EJ Lambert profile image
      Author

      EJ Lambert 4 years ago from Chicago, IL

      My notion of what they need to do is so much CHANGE the whole script, but revamp what worked and adapt the battle systems to something that is more fluid. I also think they need to get back to the open world thinking. I'm very hopeful for XV.

    • EJ Lambert profile image
      Author

      EJ Lambert 4 years ago from Chicago, IL

      You could say the same thing happened to WWF wrestling. They were on the cutting edge and pushing the boundaries every week when WCW was around. Since then it seems like they've lost their spark. Perhaps Square Enix needs somebody to come in and push them. Kingdom Hearts is a step in the right direction. They just need to make it with a more adult story.

    • Zeron87 profile image

      Zeron87 3 years ago

      LOL, you forgot to mention how Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within movie was what forced Square Soft to merge with Enix; it was so terrible, it nearly destroyed the company. I, like you, do have the "Point the finger at the new guy" syndrome when it comes to this, because Square Soft games were better, period, until Enix joined with them. Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy 7, and Xenogears (My personal favorite RPG of all time) are classic JRPGs still playable today that are yards above most JRPGs currently available.

      I am also in your camp that says future Square Enix games should emulate Final Fantasy 7, but not completely. Their games should just contain the depth that game had with its world exploration (what 13 lacked) and interesting charactes (what 12 lacked). At least FF15 looks hopeful...

      But in anycase, great hub.

      P.S.: Lightning is an awesome character. Don't blame her; blame the depressing world her designers put her in :(.

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