“What does Square need to do to get Final Fantasy back on track?”
The first question that needs to be raised really is, “What exactly took Final Fantasy off track?” Many denizens of the internets would gleefully proclaim that Final Fantasy has been under performing for years and that the glory days of the franchise are over. Sadly, while I’d love to disagree, it’s hard argue with the evidence.
The series is going through a tumultuous time for a while now. Final Fantasy XIII sold exceptionally well during its initial release, but as time went by it was hard not to look at its plot, characters, and gameplay elements as being lackluster. Final Fantasy XIV should have been a slam dunk for Square Enix after the massive critical and commercial success of Final Fantasy XI, but the poor quality of the game’s initial release was pretty glaring and we are only now seeing basic MMO infrastructure being added to the gameplay experience. Final Fantasy Versus XIII was proclaimed as ‘dead’ by Kotaku a few weeks back and people had no problem believing it as we haven’t seen hide nor hair of the title in ages. Finally, the first decent looking portable Final Fantasy in years (Final Fantasy Type-0) may not even be getting a Western release (WTF?). Thankfully, I think Square Enix is actually making strides towards improving the franchise’s standing.
Unlike in the past, the company has been pretty forward about their failings. In the aftermath of Final Fantasy XIII’s release, producer Yoshinori Kitase admitted that the game has some shortcomings, “Obviously it was the first Final Fantasy numbered title for current-gen, high definition consoles, so we found it very challenging [...] because the game was very story-driven, I think the problem was that it was quite linear. There could have been more opportunities for world exploration.” He also indicated that finalizing the themes and final direction of the game was difficult due to its lengthy production cycle and massive development team. To the same credit, Square Enix CEO Yoichi Wada has stated that Final Fantasy XIV had “Greatly Damaged” the brand name, right before apologizing for Version 1.0’s quality and thrusting the title back into development. Hell, that’s probably why we haven’t see anything come out of the Final Fantasy Versus XIII camp; most of the 300 person production team is preparing Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn for the fall relaunch. Why is all of this information relevant? Well, it’s not like the company could improve their operations without realizing that they were doing something wrong.
Square Enix has definitely made some errors recently in their handling of the Final Fantasy franchise, but the level of criticism they’ve received as a result has generated a renewed focus on quality. This September there will be an announcement pertaining to a “new entry in the Lightning Saga”, which to me sounds like Final Fantasy XIII-3. For those of you who haven’t played the Lightning DLC for Final Fantasy XIII-2, it is inferred that the series isn’t over and there will be a time when our brash, pink-haired heroine has the opportunity to save the world from chaos. While, at the time, I was rightfully pissed at Final Fantasy XIII-2’s “To be continued…” ending, it’s hard to argue with the fact that the game made numerous improvements over Final Fantasy XIII. Maybe Final Fantasy XIII-3 will be just what fans need to be satisfied with the state of console-bound Final Fantasy titles. If not, there is Final Fantasy Versus XIII – a game which is still in development and looking hella’ sexy if Wada is to be believed. Final Fantasy MMO fans will be thankful to note that ‘A Realm Reborn’ (what they’re currently calling Version 2.0) is gorgeous, will feature numerous UI improvements (the biggest problem with the game’s initial release), and has a much welcomed Final Fantasy XII look. Finally, while it’s still criminal that Final Fantasy: Type-0 hasn’t been localized, Western gamers will be getting Final Fantasy Dimensions on iOS and Android devices in the near future. What is Final Fantasy Dimensions? A title primarily developed by Matrix Software (the peeps behind Final Fantasy III and IV for the Nintendo DS) that looks akin to older Final Fantasy titles that features beautifully rendered character sprites, Active Time Battles, and a job system similar to that of Final Fantasy V’s.
I’m having a little trouble making recommendations to Square Enix because they’ve already taken Final Fantasy’s problems into their own hands. Hopefully we see some solid releases within the next year that instill faith in their audience (also, a localization of Final Fantasy: Type-0 would be nice too).