Have I played my final Final Fantasy?

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With all of this Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Versus XIII news lately, it has caused me to take a look into my heart and confront the fact that I don’t quite know what Final Fantasy is to me anymore. There was a time when Final Fantasy meant glorious, world-spanning adventures, complex and well-developed characters, and turn based battles that tested the will and skill of even the most hardcore RPG fans. To me, when I popped a new Final Fantasy game into my SNES or PSX, it was the start of something memorable, the start of something epic that couldn’t be matched. These days, Final Fantasy is a stranger to me.  Sure the new versions throw in things like eidolons and chocobos, but where’s the rest of it? Where has the magic gone? Is it due to the fact that I have grown older and have started to experience things in life that are equally as epic as an adventure that spans three to four glorious discs? I don’t think that’s the case.

The Final Fantasy that I started with, was Final Fantasy—the very beginning on the NES. I remember being captivated just by the music alone. I remember exploring towns and making my way from one town to the next wondering what dangers awaited outside in the open world. I was very young at the time and I don’t recall much of the story, but I knew that my love for RPGs had just been formed.

I think it just might be, Cecil.

Fast forward a few years down the road to me sitting in my living room taking Final Fantasy II (I am referring to the series as they are numbered in America) out of its plastic protector and popping it into my SNES. I had no clue what I was about to embark upon. The opening act, in which Cecil and Kain attack a town and discover that things are not as they seem, left me with a very similar feeling. Final Fantasy II was the beginning of something special for me. It was a point in time when I realized that video games were much more than side-scrolling beat ‘em ups and coin/ring collecting while avoiding pitfalls and spikes. When I witnessed the opening of Final Fantasy II, I realized that video games had the power to craft rich worlds and tell stories in ways that no other medium can. I was watching these characters interact and listening to the amazing score swelling in the background as I became more and more invested in this world that was unfolding before my eyes. I felt like I had been given a portal into another world in which I could become a part of, and not only was I a part of it, but I was the instrumental part that took these characters to the end of the world and beyond.

After my experience with Final Fantasy II, I knew that I had to have more, and more I got. Final Fantasy III provided the same experience again for me, pulling me into an equally complex and wondrous world and set the bar again as to what I expect a video game to be. The opera scene of Final Fantasy III will remain in my mind for all time. What a brilliantly crafted experience FFIII was.

I thought that was it. I thought I wouldn’t see another Final Fantasy or any game that came close to providing me with the amazing experiences I received from FFII and FFIII—then I got a little something called a Sony Playstation. The arrival of Final Fantasy VII was a landmark for me. I popped in the first disc and never looked back. I was taken on an adventure that, for me personally, is still the greatest adventure I have experienced in gaming to this day. The amount of development that went into each character, the quality of the soundtrack, the exciting and foreboding world to explore, and the overall polish of the game had sold me on being a nut for anything made by Squaresoft from that point on.

Time went on and I dove into FFVIII and FFIX and had amazing experiences with those titles as well. However, during FFVIII, I felt a twinge of disappointment when the world it was set in was leaning towards being more realistic and the characters were all normal human proportions, but FFIX reassured me that Square was on top of things. I’m not sure why FFVIII bothered me at the time, but I think maybe I was afraid that someday it would lead to this…

…and it did.

After finishing FFIX, I was certain that Final Fantasy, any Final Fantasy, would be a day one purchase for me and I would never regret it. When Final Fantasy X was finally released, I rushed out and picked it up. I was completely bummed out by the introduction of voiceover work for all of the characters and also by the introduction of a midriff-wearing, whiny shit with daddy issues. I started to realize that Final Fantasy was no longer in the business of providing worlds worth exploring or characters that left some room for imagination. Someone at Square decided this was what Final Fantasy was now—a world devoid of complete exploration and wonder, and a world of half-baked characters that allowed for no imagination and were cemented firmly in place by their voice actors. To me, Final Fantasy had become something it was not.

Time went on and Final Fantasy XI released. I didn’t even bother with that one. Later on, Final Fantasy XII came out and I decided to give it a shot. While Square had achieved some good things in terms of the story, characters, and world exploration, they decided to go with a whiny, blond-haired, possibly female, midriff-wearing spaz—again. After trying to choke down that design choice, I tried so hard to deal with the combat system and eventually just turned it off. As lame as it may sound, that was it. My heart was broken. I had sworn off the very series that had turned me into a believer of the true potential of video games.

With the release of Final Fantasy XIII, I was skeptical and didn’t end up getting it on its launch day. I read so many mixed reviews, read about the lack of towns, exploration, and even the lack of turn based battles. I decided to wait until the price dropped and I picked up FFXIII a couple of weeks ago. I find myself in a weird spot when I think about FFXIII. The story, while I see it having some potential, is fairly bare-bones and the characters are flat. The combat system, while not exactly the turn based awesomeness the series is known for, is actually growing on me and once I felt the flow of battle, it started making sense. The visuals are among the very best I have ever seen in any game and the music, while not quite familiar, is still very high quality. I am struggling to figure out how to feel about FFXIII.  I really love parts of it, while the other remaining parts make me groan and weep on the inside. Actually, I’m pretty sure I actually only like it because it’s gorgeous, and we all know, whether it’s with women or games, that’s just not enough. There was no room for imagination, no room for a sense of wonder, no charm to be found. Final Fantasy had completely become a vehicle to shove boring characters down our throats that are coated with the most delicious visuals around. Even with that delicious coating, it is so difficult to swallow.

As I watch the Final Fantasy name get dragged through the mud, I think I will just move on and try to find some enjoyment elsewhere. I loved Lost Odyssey and I think most of Final Fantasy’s vision and magic left when Sakaguchi left Square.

This seems to be painfully obvious when you compare FFXIII to Lost Odyssey. I think I am actually going to go back and give Blue Dragon another chance after trying to suffer through FFXIII. I think at the time, I felt Blue Dragon was too traditional, but in some cases, that’s not a bad thing at all. The traditions for Final Fantasy were something to look forward to, something to celebrate. When Square Enix is ready to tap back into the formula they had right for so long, I’ll be there to eat it up. Until then, Final Fantasy will not be a part of my game library and it is quite a bummer to say such a thing.

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