If Final Fantasy XV Plays as Great as It Looks, Then Square Enix’s Return to Form Will Be Complete
Before I begin, I’d like to consult the book of knowledge Wikipedia, and share a vital piece of information concerning Final Fantasy XV.
“Intentions to turn the game into a musical after Nomura had seen the 2012 film adaptation of Les Misérables were vetoed by the higher-ups at Square Enix.”
Apparently this was public knowledge at least year’s E3, but today is the first I’d heard of it. If a Les Mis-inspired Final Fantasy had come to pass, I genuinely believe Square Enix would have fallen from a precipice the likes of which no major publisher has any hope of subsequently climbing to safety. An irrecoverable blow, at a time when the company most needed the opposite. It wouldn’t be a blow in terms of surviving as a functioning business. But after the controversial and oft-disliked XIII trilogy, such a move would not only illicit infinite eye rolls, but stomp on the remaining shards of hope held by thousands of optimistic Square Enix fans. Thankfully this proposition was shot down, and I can’t speak for how such a thing would be received in Japan. But in the West, such antics wouldn’t fly.
Instead, what Square has done since 2012 is by most accounts quite remarkable, and the company’s successes on the RPG front far outnumber any perceived flops or shortcomings. Naoki Yoshida’s turnaround of Final Fantasy XIV from a doomed embarrassment to a game that can exist and thrive in a genre where countless others have failed (Bioware among them) is unprecedented. Furthermore, A Realm Reborn has managed to retain a lucrative subscription model, a feat only World of Warcraft has successfully achieved in recent memory.
Meanwhile, Bravely Default released on 3DS in late 2013 (2014 for North America) to near-universal acclaim, Square amassed much-needed gamer goodwill as a result, and the studio has been happily dancing into the sunset ever since. Or something like that.
The company’s narrative so far is lovely, but to me it’s still just short of a true return to form. There’s one last piece missing. I enjoyed Bravely Default as much as the next bloke (well, maybe slightly less so), but tossing a scrap to the depraved, hungry dogs your fans have become doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got your mojo back — it just means you wisened up. For Square to truly ascend the mountain and reclaim the essence of its former self, Final Fantasy XV needs to be an excellent game. It can’t be just OK, and it can’t be an experience with “redeeming traits.” It needs to be a bona fide, must-play hit, and nothing short of that will complete the transformation.
Luckily, I believe the company is uniquely positioned to succeed at this, and if you view last night’s trailer reveal with anything short of an extremely critical eye, it’s easy to be swept away in an enchanting, wondrous hype-storm the likes of which you probably haven’t felt since childhood. To me, the trailer expertly encapsulates the wonderment of a new Final Fantasy, the effect of which is severely amplified my general disappointment in current-gen software thus far. Until now, only Mario Kart 8 and footage of GTA V’s forthcoming remaster have genuinely impressed me this console cycle. Meanwhile, last night’s trailer is the sort that you rewatch until your eyes hurt. From there, you curl up in your bed and fall asleep dreaming about it.
It’s interesting, because to me Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is the outright definition of a rough title with redeeming traits. Though critics were split on its quality, the game was doused in signs of life from Square that the first two XIII titles conspicuously lacked. An engaging (albeit linear) world, characters with compelling purpose, a time-based central game mechanic that granted a sense of urgency to an otherwise critically panned bundle of narrative plot and backstory — the effort to repair and improve recent sins was monumental. It’s precisely this momentum that should, if all goes well, propel Square’s dev teams toward success in what may be the final year of Final Fantasy XV development.
I’ve spoken a lot about “returning to form,” but there are gamers out there who raise a cynical but valid point. “What form?” Though Square Enix’s RPGs are famous and often timeless, some of the company’s most acclaimed entries simply do not stand the test of time, and Final Fantasy VII has been a particular target of late. Think about it; if you read gaming magazines as a kid in the 90s, there was always this unspoken, continuous assertion of which consoles had the most epic games. Nintendo had Ocarina of Time, sure, but Sony had Final Fantasy VII. Even series producer Yoshinori Kitase acknowledges that remaking VII in a fashion suitable for modern gaming would be a “huge project,” going so far as to say that it would be his “life’s work.” Meanwhile, Ocarina was remade with a fresh coat of paint on 3DS by Grezzo, an outside developer.
Some would argue that it’s the 2D Final Fantasy games, Chrono Trigger, and Secret of Mana that truly define the golden age of Square Enix, and that’s a valid case that deserves its own article. What matters now is that Final Fantasy XV deliver on its promise, and if you believe in miracles (or just the concept of a company successfully reinventing itself), then we may receive some certifiable RPG magic for our fancy new console boxes after all. Please, though — let’s take it easy with the teen road-trip banter when it comes to dialogue.