Whether they’re diving down the rabbit hole of an elevator conversation to create Kingdom Hearts, or letting Tetsuya Nomura know he’s the director of the FFVII remake after the project was already underway, Square Enix has a tendency to chase the dreams it’s barely woken up from.
It’s a peculiar kind of brashness that has accompanied Square and Final Fantasy since its inception, the tale almost mythos now in the gaming world. A developer on its last legs puts all of its efforts into one last title, and dubs it their ‘Final Fantasy’. They then go on to keep producing Final Fantasies for the next 29 years.
The stakes have changed and the brashness has evolved alongside it. On the one hand, their success is undeniable – they’ve had a hit on nearly every major platform, they’ve created some of gaming’s most iconic characters, and they’ve pushed every boundary within the medium. However, the other hand is often trying to juggle more balls that it can handle.
Fabula Nova Crystallis: Final Fantasy
An age ago, in the time only known as 2006, Square Enix announced that there would be a series of games within the title of FFXIII. The titles included FFXIII, FFXIII Agito and FFXIII Versus, which would go on to be FFXIII (and its sequels under the umbrella of ‘Lightning Saga’), Final Fantasy Type-0, and FFXV.
Meaning ‘New tale of the crystal’, Fabula Nova Crystallis could have been considered a soft reboot of the series. For gamers who haven’t gracefully slid into the mature bracket just yet, it might seem like there was no need to reboot a series where the games were arguably very similar. All of them featured turn-based combat, epic adventures and overwhelming themes. However, the wizened and experienced gamer would have noticed drastic changes since the release of the first Final Fantasy, noting the transition of nameless avatars to fully-fleshed out characters, plot points becoming more and more complex, and the shift away from the original core theme of Final Fantasy – crystals.
In an interview with Wired.co.uk, Hajime Tabita, director of FFXV, described the theory behind Crystallis:
“The original idea was to create a series of games around the ‘Crystal Legend’ mythology, but not restrict developers to a single direction. We wanted it to be quite a broad idea. It was like the mythology of ancient Greece and how so much fiction comes out of those – it would be easier to make future Final Fantasy games if we were to create a shared mythology and base games on that. I remember when Yoshinori Kitase came around and told me to make the first Crystal Legends game – he said that if you pay attention to the legends and the idea behind them, you can make almost any sort of game around it.”
Development hell and the Final Fantasy Disease
It’s now 2016, an unbelievable ten years since the announcement – it’s a miracle that Final Fantasy XIII Versus, or Final Fantasy XV, is being released in any form at all. Square Enix had promised title after title in the same year that the PlayStation 3 was going to be released, and the Final Fantasy XIII titles which had already started their development on the PlayStation 2 now had to be brought over to the PS3.
In that ten years, the culture of Final Fantasy changed, and problems were present both externally and internally. Fans’ passion failed to be kindled by FFXIII, and they clamoured for any titbit of information they could find about FF Versus. Delay after delay and announcement after announcement, urges from execs to ‘be excited’ for upcoming information (which ultimately led to nothing) saw rekindled interest diminishing rapidly.
To the outsider, it seemed like Square Enix had lost its way or given in to pride. In 2012, Yoicha Wada said that they wouldn’t begin a remake of Final Fantasy VII until they’d produced an FF title that matched it in terms of quality, which begged the question: what if they simply didn’t have the ability to do that anymore? Why would they deny the fans something they actually wanted instead of trying to placate them with experiments that seemed to be almost guaranteed to not impress? And where the hell was FFXIII Versus, whose trailer had captivated them so?
On the inside, Tabita had to deal with what he called ‘Final Fantasy Disease’. He described it in an interview with 4gamer:
“It refers to people within the company who can’t imagine anything other than their own view of Final Fantasy. Since the root is a strong self-affirmation, one’s own view of Final Fantasy takes more priority than the team’s success. If that view of Final Fantasy isn’t fulfilled, then they’re convinced that it’s bad for Final Fantasy. They think, ‘Since Final Fantasy is a special team, then we are also special because we are making it. When the new Final Fantasy comes out, everybody is going to be so into it.’ But that’s not the reality of the situation, is it? Because of that, there was a time I told off the team, saying, ‘We’re not special. Wake Up.’ Yet, I realised that when Final Fantasy XV news was made public, this wasn’t only inside the company. Everyone has FF disease.”
Inner storm before calm release
From all accounts, FFXV now looks as though it will be well worth the wait. Reviewers and commentators have remarked on the fluidity of combat, exceptional dialogue and gorgeous, expansive world. Personally, seeing Ramuh, the lightning god, being summoned as a skyscraper-tall entity that unleashes electric hell upon your enemies was enough to make my jaw drop. Watching FFXV’s accompanying anime series Brotherhood was like reliving my teenage years cruising with my friends and teasing each other relentlessly. And the fighting system is reminiscent of Final Fantasy: Crisis Core, my second favourite entry to the series and the one that found the right mix of turn-based and action combat.
It’s been a long time coming, but FFXV looks like a completely new, revitalised, and welcome direction for the much-loved series.