Final Fantasy Has Lost The Plot
Recently, I had the chance to review Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII and was filled with a sense of disappointment at what has happened to the once mighty series. It was an overwhelming feeling that the charm was no longer there and that Final Fantasy, once the golden standard of JRPGs, was in a bit of a crisis.
Many Final Fantasy fans would argue that the series was going downhill after Final Fantasy X, and that the decision to add a sequel to the mix, with Final Fantasy X-2, was the first nail in the coffin. In my own opinion, Final Fantasy X was the last true Final Fantasy game on a major console, and after that the game series has changed for the worse. Perhaps you could argue that it was the merger of Squaresoft and Enix that has led to the degradation in the quality of the series. Yet I can only speculate about why the series has transformed drastically.
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Lightning Returns felt like it was systematically going through the motions without a strong hand to guide the direction of the game. It’s mere purpose was to conclude the Final Fantasy XIII saga, I understand that very idea and that in itself is problematic. I think when an unnecessarily convoluted and laboured story such as the one told in Final Fantasy XIII is dragged over three games with many changes to core gameplay mechanics, cohesion and world building are diminished. Traditionally before Final Fantasy X, the major titles in the series were limited to self-contained narratives within each game. Overall Lightning Returns is a much weaker offering than previous games in the series.
I can nitpick about the battle system, and rant about how Final Fantasy should return to a more traditional turn-based system in the core series, but that misses the point of what my thoughts are on the franchise. For myself, Final Fantasy in prior outings has always engaged the player with fantastical tales, an endearing cast of characters and genre defining moments. Final Fantasy VII is probably the most apt example with many events in the game cementing the importance of the Final Fantasy series in gaming culture, with the death of Aerith most certainly being the most well-known.
Final Fantasy games in the past had this intrinsic momentum where the game’s story, character progression and aesthetics would crescendo, and you knew you were playing something special. I miss that feeling I used to experience in previous Final Fantasy games. Lightning Returns was a bore-fest to my own sensibilities, and whilst there were moments of clarity in the game where it lifted itself from mediocrity, I never once had the feeling that the game was in any way exceeding my expectations. Final Fantasy games used to surprise me, Final Fantasy IX was the most notable at achieving this effect, and happens to be my favourite Final Fantasy game. Between the humourous antics of Vivi and Zidane’s journey of self-discovery I was enamoured with that particular title. I haven’t felt this way about a Final Fantasy game for a long time.
The drop in visual quality in Lightning Returns was pretty noticeable too, and the inconsistencies in the design of the world lessened the level of quality I would normally associate with a Final Fantasy game. Strictly speaking, the game felt lacking and the cracks in the game’s design were pretty evident. I wasn’t impressed as I had been with other Final Fantasy games, and this isn’t a good sign. My hope for the future is that Final Fantasy XV somehow rekindles what used to make Final Fantasy amazing. If Square Enix can do that then I will once again be sold on Final Fantasy. For now, I’m looking to other JRPGs to fill the gap.