Final Fantasy XIII promised to be quite an experience when it was first revealed. With both visual and spiritual references to earlier games in the series (particularly VII) and with a fight system modelled on the high-energy combat of anime Advent Children, things seemed to be looking good.
Despite a respectable Metacritic score in the low 80s, XIII never really managed to live up to what was expected of it; in part due to linear gameplay and certainly owing to a lack of any real exploration until tens of hours in. Once and for all, Square Enix proved that pretty graphics and ‘cute’ girls aren’t enough to keep players playing.
What was so good about those old games that keep them locked into our memories, a staple of gaming nostalgia? VII had a great story, but what kept us glued to our screens for so long?
I remember when VIII was announced, being absolutely blown away by the graphics: it was one of the reasons I eventually bought the game (although plugging some 120 hours into VII probably went some way towards helping that). But you also came to love the characters, you could explore cities and speak to thousands of people and rarely did you just have to walk from one side of the screen to the other.
But it was more than that, from the beginning of the series right through the end of the PS1, we managed to do without voice work, instantly giving us control over how the characters spoke and the emotional range they displayed. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the story in XIII, for me the characters were largely forgettable.
It has been argued that XIII suffered from becoming a multi-platform game and that if it hadn’t been for the 360 version, we’d have been offered a much better title. As we learn more about Microsoft’s publishing policies, it becomes more and more difficult to avoid placing blame onto them. With no real evidence for either side of the argument, this will just be a topic that goes round and round whenever XIII is mentioned, however, the development Is long over and we must look instead to the future.
Final Fantasy XV will probably be announced over the next 18-24 months and we’ll be presented with a fresh world, fresh characters and fresh material to sift through. Will it ever live up to fan expectation? After 15 games, sequels and multiple spin-offs, can Square Enix do anything that won’t result in long-time followers feeling alienated?
For that we’ll have to wait and see, but I strongly believe that the idea of Final Fantasy, the memory of blowing up that Mako Reactor or taking part in that raid on Narshe, will inevitably result in another game that doesn’t quite scratch that Final Fantasy itch.
With the upcoming release of Final Fantasy XIII-2 (And the rumoured reveal of XIII-3), Square Enix have the chance to make up for the mistakes made in XIII. They have listened to critical reaction and updated and changed. Can they reinstall confidence in the brand? If the rumours prove true and they plan to make another sequel, they’re obviously feeling confident in the changes they have made.
There are those that would question whether the J-RPG is even relevant any more, claiming the genre is little more than a ghost left over from consoles with limited processing power and low disk space. That’s an article for a different time, but is Final Fantasy the biggest brand suffering from this change of tastes? Should Square invest in a different brand and leave Final Fantasy to rest in peace?
Let us know in the comments…