My history with Final Fantasy goes way back. A lot of the games have meant a lot to me, and many of my “big video game moments” come from one game or another in this series. In 2009, I was given a horrible reminder of all the things that make Final Fantasy special to me: Final Fantasy XIII. I put in a solid 30 hours, but even the game “opening up” and becoming marginally less linear wasn’t enough to compensate for the myriad problems I had with it. It seemed like the magic that Squaresoft had captured back in the day was lost. The cast of FFXIII was one of the most painfully archetypal casts I’d ever met, and my relationship with the world of FFXIII was non-existent. When I put down the controller for the last time, I was given some solace in knowing that Square Enix had one more Final Fantasy game in the works: Final Fantasy Versus XIII (now Final Fantasy XV). On September 30th, we’ll have the chance to finally play that game. I’m not going to do that, though.
The first footage I remember seeing of FFXV (after it had been taken over by now-director Hajime Tabata) was the footage of the main character, Noctis, and his friends driving on a highway together in a shiny black car. The footage was… weird. I remember not really knowing what to feel, but being a little bit confused by the aesthetic. I was optimistic, though, and remember thinking to myself, “Final Fantasy XIII was a strange fluke. They’ll have learned what fans didn’t like about that game, and this game will be the better for it. Final Fantasy here we come!”. The next bit of footage I saw that gave me pause was the “stealth” footage of Noctis and his friends, who were teleporting around a hangar of some sort and assassinating guards. This footage was a bit more unsettling for me. I couldn’t help but hope that this was a mini-game segment of sorts. If not, it was seeming way too ‘action-game’ for my tastes. The last thing that had me wary was the battle-system. It reminded me a lot of Kingdom Hearts, and again, looked more ‘action-game’ than I would have liked. A month or two ago, I had the chance to play a short demo. It was time to test if any of my worries were well founded. I absolutely, unabashedly, hated it.
I will admit out the gate that the demo I played, the “Platinum Demo”, was probably not a fantastic indicator of what a playthrough of FFXV will be like, exactly. First off, the demo had me collecting crystal pieces around the level, Banjo-Kazooie style, while I texted back-and-forth with Carbuncle, a well-established summon from the Final Fantasy series. Texted my summon. Yeah. Secondly, I didn’t get to see any of this oft-touted “bromance” that is apparently going to melt my heart, or drive around on a highway with said bros. Lastly, playing as child Noctis, I didn’t have full access to all of adult Noctis’ abilities, but the last battle of the demo gives you much more freedom, and looks almost identical to the recent “late-game gameplay” trailer that was released for the game. In my eyes, this is a very bad thing, because the game played horribly. The last battle had me trying to roll-dodge around a big sword-wielding enemy, holding circle to attack when I had a chance, and flashily teleporting around once in awhile. None of it felt very good at all. The dodging felt extremely clunky and imprecise (and I’m a pretty good “dodger-of-things” – see: Dark Souls), and I didn’t really feel responsible for landing the hits that I did – it felt like the game was doing that part for me. All-in-all, the fact that I wasn’t intending to play Kingdom Hearts aside, the action in this game just isn’t all that satisfying.
When I was finished with the demo, I wasn’t really sure what I had just played. It certainly wasn’t Final Fantasy… was it? Has the series really moved on to become a clunky action-RPG? Am I happy about this? To that last question, I knew the answer was no. Without really being able to comment on the game’s writing and characters, I can, without hesitation, say that “playing” it was not something I enjoyed. Heck, I enjoyed FFXIII’s battle system more than XV’s. At the very least, I hope that the writing is better this time around, but, at the end of the day, it’s not something I’m mad about. That would be silly. Disappointed, sure, but certainly not mad. What does make me mad, however, is the discussion surrounding this game. Let’s talk about that for a moment.
I’m willing to bet that there are a lot of people in the same boat as I am, that would prefer some form of turn-based battle-system, or at least something that isn’t quite so action-oriented. Final Fantasy is a brand, but it means a lot of different things to different people. Whatever game in this series was the first one that you loved becomes “your” Final Fantasy. With that in mind, Square Enix still retains the right to make Final Fantasy into whatever kind of monstrosity, or masterpiece, that they want to. If Final Fantasy XVI turns out to be a first-person-shooter, you have a right to be disappointed, but not mad. If the game isn’t what you want it to be, you shouldn’t buy it. If the last year or so is any indication, though, you probably shouldn’t vocalize that.
The number of times I have seen someone online come to the “defense” of Square Enix whenever someone says that FFXV isn’t shaping up to be something they’re very interested in is astonishing to me. The hate that I’ve gotten for expressing this opinion, in a very civil manner, is disheartening. To many, it seems, being a fan of Final Fantasy requires that you graciously slop-up whatever it is that Square Enix shovels your way, no questions asked, and that you also tear down anyone who isn’t willing to do the same. “It’s modernizing, don’t be stuck in the past!”, is a common argument I see, though often with much, much less tact. To that, I have to say that I hope turn-based battle systems don’t ever go away, and again, I’m willing to bet there are lots of people who share a similar feeling. Why are we being “internet-yelled-at”, and ostracized from the Final Fantasy community for having this opinion? That, I honestly don’t know. But this leads me to the crux of my argument: the only way you can really have your voice heard is with your wallet. If Final Fantasy XV doesn’t look at all like what “your” Final Fantasy games look like, don’t buy it.
Obviously, there are people out there that do want what Final Fantasy XV is serving up, and that’s fine! If it turns out that the majority of Final Fantasy fans aren’t looking for something similar to what I am from the series, then I’ll just pull up my socks and move on. I don’t think that’s the case, though. I think there are lots of people who cry themselves to sleep at night because of what’s happening with the Final Fantasy VII Remake. I think there are lots of people who aren’t really “feeling” what FFXV is all about. So remember, Square Enix decides what Final Fantasy games are, but you decide if that’s what they remain. Final Fantasy XIII sold 5.35 million copies worldwide. I think that a lot of these purchases were not because of what Final Fantasy XIII was, but because of the brand it was associated with. If Final Fantasy XV isn’t the direction you want this brand to take, then don’t support it! Save your money for the Final Fantasy you want: “Final Fantasy XVI: First-Person-Fantasy-Shooter-Extravaganza-Cloud-x-Sephiroth-Ultramaxx”.