You Don’t Know How to Fix Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy, in happier times
Above: Final Fantasy, in happier times

Bloggers have some pretty crappy plans to revive Final Fantasy.

Take Gamasutra’s Christian Nutt. Nutt says Final Fantasy games became an industry “pillar” but now “lack something fundamental: a coherent, logical story.” Because if FF

Above: The logical coherence Christian Nutt craves
Above: The logical coherence Christian Nutt craves

games are known for anything, it’s logic and coherence. Like in FF VII, when Sepiroth wanted to destroy the world because something about clones and his mother. Or FF VI, where our heroes battle a ghost train, tame a yeti, and star in an opera. Nutt claims his essay was inspired by spending 4 hours on YouTube with the flu, and it definitely has that vibe. He rambles for a bit about vision and crystals and mogs  before ultimately recommending “throwing it all away, and starting fresh.” So to save the series, throw it away. Square Enix definitely shouldn’t hire Christian Nutt.

Still, it’s better than Gamerant’s idea. They list “5 Things We’d Like to See in the Next Final Fantasy.”  Number three: more cutscenes.

Part of what blew gamers away back when the first PlayStation hit was its ability to render some extremely impressive cutscenes, highlighted most notably by those contained in Final Fantasy VII

Think about Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, a fan service film that was essentially one long cutscene, and how well it satisfied fans’ need for visual splendor. Sure, interactivity might be important at certain points, but just setting the controller down and basking in some beautiful graphics is part of what makes Final Fantasy great.

I had to re-read this a few times to make sure it wasn’t some sort of Swiftian modest proposal. Cutscenes have a fair reputation as gaming’s bane: dull, long-winded exposition-laden QTE shitshows possibly antithetical to the medium itself. And the only way Final Fantasy could have more cutscenes is if it was Xenosaga. But Gamerant wants more. Gamerant has a fever, and the only prescription is more cutscenes.

To be fair, Gamerant is referring to a specific fancy kind of cutscene, but this is the first time anyone’s ever demanded more cutscenes from a JRPG.  What else does Gamerant want? Longer spell-animations? Randomer battles? How about multiplayer?

Having a co-op experience in Final Fantasy would definitely be a challenge given the length it takes to complete each game, and the amount of freedom that is given to the player, but if done right it could be the closest thing to an MMO without all the MMO tropes.

Above: Final Fantasy's salvation, according to Gamerant
Above: Final Fantasy’s salvation, according to Gamerant

So wait, you want a MMORPG that’s not really a MMORPG? And you refuse to give us even an inkling of what that means or how it might work? Screw you, Gamerant. It’s people like you who ruined Dragon Quest.

At least Tim Turi of Gameinformer respects tradition. Fellates tradition, in fact. Tim wants a 16-bit style Final Fantasy. “I wonder why Square Enix doesn’t consider eschewing the high-budget spectacle new Final Fantasies have become in favor of something simpler. Something 16-bit,” he writes. Well Tim, Square Enix doesn’t consider that because only the grayest neckbeards would buy it. The drama and storytelling would be crippled. It would take a series synonymous with epic grandeur and make it small. It’s a pointless stupid terrible idea and deep down Tim Turi knows it. He gives exactly one argument for a “return of the pixel” : FF VI is awesome.

(Tim is also forced to contend with the fact that Square Enix actually releases dreadful new 16-bit Final Fantasys all the goddamn time.)

Or hey maybe we’re all just too old for Final Fantasy anyway. That’s the premise of a pretty interesting dialogue between Nightmare Mode editors Tom Auxier and Adam Harshberger.

AH: …at 23 and enslaved to a cubicle, those stories don’t resonate with me that much anymore… Squall, at a certain point in my life, was basically me. At one point Edgar was the most badass dude on the planet, Tifa was sexy as hell, and Aerith was the most perfect creature to ever exist. Not anymore, though. The Final Fantasy games these folks should make is the same kind that would speak to me.

So Harshberger admits to being Squall, the most annoying emo twat in gaming history. Then Auxier and Harshberger decide that, since the once “punk rock” FF developers are now broken-down middle-age company men, they should make a game in the same failed, empty spirit.

AH: They have to write what they know. They used to know youth, but now it’s something else. Something older and more cynical. And it doesn’t matter if it isn’t youth, it just has to come from the heart.

And yes, I realize I just seriously advocated for the “mid-life crisis” Final Fantasy. Because I would play the shit out of that game.

TA: A mid-life crisis Final Fantasy would be great, I agree with you.

What? No. A mid-life crisis FF would be the diametric opposite of “great.” Mid-life crises are for losers. Loserdom is precisely what people go on video game fantasy adventures to escape. No one wants to be your “miserable, trapped” protagonist, guys. We have real-life for that. We want to be mighty heroes with cool friends who conquer

Above: Adam Harshberger
Above: Adam Harshberger

the world. Save the mid-life crisis for your shitty indie browser game.

Auxier and Leonhart Harshberger aren’t the only smart gamers driven to madness by FF‘s woes. Jason Schreier writes an excellent JRPG column for Kotaku, and he denies there’s even a problem. Addressing FF‘s creators, he writes “Speaking of Final Fantasy, you need to stop worrying about how to ‘fix’ that series. You don’t need to fix it.” I dunno, Jason. There hasn’t been a good Final Fantasy in 10 years. They should probably worry a little bit. That’s why a few months earlier you yourself said FF was on “life support.”

Schreier continues:

Let me help you out. Even at its very worst, Final Fantasy is still a platform for new, experimental ideas, and even its most mediocre games (ie: Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIV) are always innovative endeavors. You continue to surprise us both aesthetically and mechanically. Don’t give that up. I’d rather see a crappy, original Final Fantasy than a decent, boring rehash.

Above: A foppish betailed chibi dandy from FF XII
Above: The characters in FF IX looked like this. Seriously.

Okay first of all, Final Fantasy XIV wasn’t “mediocre.” It was so broken and horrible Square Enix had to make it free-to-play and completely relaunch it. Second, they haven’t surprised us aesthetically since FF IX, and that super-deformed chibi shit was one profoundly unpleasant surprise. (I love IX but its look was dumb homage to the 2-D era. A retro modern FF should look like the artwork of Yoshitaka Amano. It’s not too late! We can do it now. We have the technology.)

Then Schreier says this:

Keep experimenting. Keep trying new things. Surprise us. Shock us. Make us say things like “this isn’t Final Fantasy!” and “WTF, Square Enix?”

This is the kind of mindlessness that leads to baby-with-the-bathwater decisions like “let’s not have towns in FF XIII.” Sometimes, when fans say “WTF, Square Enix?” it’s not because they’re hidebound nostalgists who need their minds blown. Sometimes fans say “WTF” because they deserve an explanation for the stupid shit Square Enix does. Screier once wrote a column defending disc 2 of Xenogears though, so he might not be the guy to ask.

Look, there have always been crappy Final Fantasys. You do not know pain until you have played FF II (I did, all the way to the end, children). VIII stunk. I love it but it stunk (sorry, Squall Harshberger). XII maybe sucked, no one’s sure. Between 1991 and 2001 Square produced an incredible run of all-time (or near all-time) classics: FF IV, FF V, FF VI, FF VII, FF IX, FFX, FF Tactics, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross,Vagrant Story, Xenogears. We can’t expect decades of uninterrupted artistic greatness. Not every company can be Nintendo or Pixar or Studio Ghibli.  Almost no companies are.

Maybe FF XIII was a Mario Sunshine-like aberration and Final Fantasy is fine. More likely Square’s post-acquisition talent exodus was too much, and the next great FF was Xenoblade. We’ll find out with Final Fantasy XV. Until then for the love of Aerith do NOT tell the internet how to fix Final Fantasy, because your ideas are terrible and you’re a moron.

In a Perfect World, Every Game Would Have Its Own Controller

Above: Holy shit, this ruled
Above: Holy shit, this ruled

Nintendo’s Wii U propaganda may be vile, but specialty controllers make games more fun. The old arcades were full of them. Uzis to rescue POWs.  Steering wheels for every vehicle known to man. Full-scale motorcycles. Lightsabers to duel Darth Vader, X-Wing cockpits to shoot him down. The original Street Fighter used two pressure-sensitive punching pads. Connoisseurs knew the only way to play Marble Madness was with a track ball.  Atari 2600 peripherals included keypads and paddles. We’ve had guitars, maracas, taiko drums, dance mats,  balance boards, fishing rods, and whatever the hell it was that came with World Class Track Meet. Capcom attempted to market — even in the States! — a mech sim with its own 40-button two-joystick control panel. It was awesome. We said “hey you” to Pikachu with microphones. A company called Mad Catz makes a nice profit selling $200 arcade sticks every time a tournament fighter is released. Extremely annoying PC gamers never stop reminding you first-person-shooters should be played with a mouse. Real-time strategy really does require a keyboard. It was often said the N64’s controller (an unheralded precursor to the Wii-mote) was designed for one game, one of the best: Mario 64.

So, like a lot of devices, Wii U’s tablet will enhance a game or two.

Don’t Expect Much From Wii U’s Tablet

Above: Not the future of gaming
Above: Not the future of gaming

If you’ve been following Wii U launch coverage, you’ve probably read a sentence like this:

The Wii U, successor to Nintendo’s blockbuster Wii console, presents several intriguing possibilities for interactive entertainment, thanks to a tablet-style controller, the GamePad.

Reviewers are extremely intrigued by the thrilling potential of this tablet. They shouldn’t be. We actually already know what game developers will do with it: not much.

Since the days of the NES Power Glove, gimmick controllers have promised new frontiers of immersion and interactivity they could not possibly deliver. The mighty 8-bit mitt purported to “track the position of your hand in space” with “3-d sensors.”  “Now you don’t just guide the action. You’re in the action,” the ads hilariously lied.

Nintendo’s own Virtual Boy console set the industry standard for chicanery when the futuristic virtual reality of its marketing clashed so violently with the migraine-inducing monochromatic hellscape  of its games. But the main reason to doubt Wii U’s paradigm-shattering potential is this:  Nintendo’s been pushing the tablet’s basic ideas in one form of another for about a decade. Mindful observers will recall the GameCube’s GBA connectivity, which introduced  “asymmetric gameplay” with a game called Pac-Man Vs.;  the Wii U launch showcase Nintendo Land features not one but two barely-disguised versions of Pac-Man Vs. It takes balls the size of late-stage katamaris to promote your “revolutionary” controller with a ten-year-old game, but then this is a console with a 2-D platformer for a killer app. How Will U Play Next? Like U always have.

Sega’s DreamCast, always blazing crude trails, also had a playable screen in its gamepad. But Nintendo is borderline obsessed with offering “second window(s) into the video game world.” The Big N has been making dual-screen handhelds since 2004. Developers mostly use window 2 for maps and inventories. Like the Wii U tablet, the DS and its follow-up 3DS had touchscreensbut the portables pioneered no genres or play styles (Zelda got new controls). Touchscreens revolutionized casual games only.

Which brings us to the Wii-mote. The first Wii was so popular and successful — a bona fide cultural touchstone — that people have convinced themselves its controller didn’t suck. It did. With the nunchuck accessory (usually necessary) it wasn’t even unique, just split in two. It needed more face buttons and a second analog stick. Inputs mapped to the motion sensor ruined games, like Twilight Princess. Enjoying Donkey Kong Country Returns or New Super Mario Bros. Wii meant holding the Wii-mote horizontally, turning it into the world’s least-ergonomic NES pad.Two of the Wii’s greatest hits, Mario Kart Wii and Smash Brothers Brawl, required a Gamecube controller for high-level play. For all its alleged noob-friendly simplicity, the Wii-mote’s synchronizing and calibrating and battery-killing made it considerably higher-maintenance than old fashioned controllers. Only its games were simple. Wii Sports was often called a tech demo, but it was no mere demo — it was the tech entire. 5 years later Skyward Sword‘s fencing fulfilled in a small way the hardware’s promise; it required a $25 expansion to play. Despite its Kinect-spawning sales figures, the Wii didn’t change the way we play games. Microsoft and Sony’s next machines will come with standard control pads. You can buy one for the Wii U, too.

After the Wii U’s underwhelming debut, game journalists (whose job it is to be excited about new products) decided Nintendo just hadn’t properly articulated the new tablet’s wonders. Nintendo favored this interpretation. “It’s a complicated device to explain in words,” a marketing director said. Maybe. Or maybe it’s not that complicated. Maybe you’re just conning casuals into blowing $399.99 on another hideously underpowered soon-to-be-mothballed piece-of-crap flimflam system.

At least Link will be in HD.