I have a confession to make. In the summer of 1998 I faked a sickness to my manager at Taco Bell. During the phone call I committed a long list of cliche’ acts you would expect of such a pursuit…the fake cough, the hoarse voice, and of course the revelation (lie). I felt bad for about 20 seconds afterward. There was no time to sulk – besides, some other teenager who needed money to pay for their new high school car got additional hours. As for me, the job was a necessity of growing up and learning to pay for activities I liked to do. In this case it was not to add a car to my list of electronic toys, but to purchase the time to play video games. Time that otherwise would be saturated with the foul language you would expect from adults who work all day and come home to kids who have sat around doing nothing while they labored; earned money to pay for said non-activity. Money well spent. The time I purchased? Where did it go? Final Fantasy 7 of course – cue huge eye rolls.
Final Fantasy 7 was my first RPG without the word Zelda. To this day I’m not exactly sure why I bought it. I played Chrono Trigger for a few rounds at a friends house and thought it was awful, but I enjoyed the music. Boy did I miss the mark with that assertion! Those same friends who enjoyed Final Fantasy 6 and Chrono Trigger hoped one day to acquire a Playstation to continue their Final Fantasy-induced adventures. A successful campaign of begging, pleading, and getting a job at Taco Bell (Hell) resulted in a conditional Playstation gift the prior Christmas. Condition: Games were not included. With this in mind, Final Fantasy 7 at least had to be tried right? I mean, at the time, it was the best game available. In a single week, I went from Mario, Zelda, Tetris on home consoles to Japanese RPG addict. There was no turning back. My arcade time still tilted towards Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat (secretly); but at home, the pallet had been cleansed and rebuilt anew. The foundation of which consisted of everything Final Fantasy 7 had to offer. To date that include: Chrono series, Xenogears, Xenosaga series, Tales series, Shadow Hearts series, etc. All, at sometime or another, tackle very adult issues. Some even forcing you to participate in the discussion through choice or taking sides.
The above is true for many gamers. There is a reason Final Fantasy 7 tops RPG lists. It changed gaming by moving the needle on just how interactive a story could be. There is no game before Final Fantasy 7 that immersed a gamer, mentally, into the story. Furthermore, the gamer’s trust was not taken for granted with a half hearted attempt at an epic story; a crusade if you will. Final Fantasy is unabashedly Japanese. Probably one of the last Japanese RPGs have that truth. Culturally, the entire game introduces deep Pacific Rim beliefs, styles, social structures and, hopes and dreams to a Western audience. Sure, past Final Fantasy games borrowed from European medieval culture. I would argue the aesthetics were not as much of a major story element as FF7 presented. FF6 is sometimes placed above FF7 because it truly took a huge step in storytelling. I agree, in part, without a successful FF6, FF7 would not be possible. However, FF7 exceeds FF6 for several reasons. The most substantial is the visuals upgrade. FF7 graphics propelled major story elements in a way FF6 could not.
Final Fantasy 7 – the top of the chain, the head honcho, the peak of Square’s many laurels. What goes up must come down, right? Square managed to create a decent FFF7 follow-up, FF8. I felt it was too melodramatic, but I respect its achievements. FF9 proved Square had not forgotten its roots. In many circles, FF9 inched its way to a top Final Fantasy game label. I found the game had too many twists for its own good and a final boss that didn’t make a ton of sense. FF10, the FF7 of the new generation, competently led the console RPG world into mostly full time character voice over. The undoing of FF10, in my thoughts, is the emergence of the modern Square Enix: Money grubbing, incompleteness, sell-out, and trying for too much international appeal. For the first time a Final Fantasy game, usually a standalone, produced a follow-up. FFX-2. To me, this was the beginning of the DLC. Spoiler Alert – the main character, Tidus, is basically dream. He’s not coming back. Why have a whole game where the overarching idea is to reconnect with him? This is where Final Fantasy flew off the rails for me.
I stuck around for FF10, and even FX-2. I remained still by spending (wasting) my money trying the FF11 MMO. I played through FF12, probably the most boring Final Fantasy ever made. The stakes were so very low. Saving a country versus saving an alternate universe, the earth or time itself. The game was still well made, enormous and sports one of my favorite Final Fantasy tracks. Enter Final Fantasy 13. The crushing bottom. With the immense power of the Playstation 3, Square puts a very much linear side scroller on the market with a numerical Final Fantasy designation. The story was so scatterbrained the mind boggles on how it was approved. The scope was so narrow, Final Fantasy 6, if it had been a person, laughed to keep from crying. Lipstick on a pig. After that game, I crossed over into American made RPGs such as Mass Effect. Bioware, as far as I’m concerned, took the mantle of defining what it means to participate in an expansive RPG experience. I learned to tolerate 3rd person shooting just to play the game. Still not a huge fan. To make matters worse, FF13 had sequels! I could no longer stay on the train. This is a fan who went opening day to see Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and used every technique my young mind had to defend it…understanding the feature borrowed heavily (and smartly) from FF7’s incredible, and still very much current, environmental/ethical themes. Disappointed cannot even begin to explain it.
I’m skipping Final Fantasy 14 for a host of reasons. Asking a monthly payment for a game is outdated. I’m not sure how you can get away with a subscription service in this day and age. We have several commentaries and reviews on Final Fantasy 14. People seem to enjoy it. I could not be happier for them, but I refuse to line the pockets of a company who has turned Final Fantasy to a cash cow instead of an artistic and cultural phenomenon. I have seen FF14 played…seems like a mess of a game to me – more akin to WOW (World of Warcraft). If FF 1-10 proved anything, its that you don’t need all that ridiculous over-crammed battle mechanics to make a good game. You do, however, need immersion. To this point, Final Fantasy XV has much to prove. This will be my first Final Fantasy game since FF13. My patience is low, my expectations even lower, and my wallet is barely open. Already, DLC is announced. I do not have high hopes. In effect, this game is the product of a decade (!!!) of toying around with graphical engines, concepts and storylines. One thing is for sure, Square Enix threw the kitchen sink at this game. Accompanying the release timeline is a full 2 hour movie (Kingsglaive – which was actually pretty good), an anime short, companion comics, and probably a partridge in a pear tree. More on that in Part 2.