Playing: Destiny Watching: The Blacklist
Shinra. Golbez. Balamb Garden. The Opera House.
If any of this is striking a chord with you then you are a fan of Square RPGs like I am… Or I was. Let me explain.
I am an unapologetic retro gaming enthusiast. I have a love for all things gaming that harken back to my youth or the ‘golden years’ of early console gaming. It’s why I’m so in love with Nintendo, it’s why Mega Dads took it’s cue from Mega Man in both name and early design, and it’s why I have been so frustrated with the state of Square-Enix over the last console generation.
You see, when I was a teenager, there was nothing as engrossing to me in regards to video games as Squaresoft RPGs for the SNES. Final Fantasy IV (II in the US) was the first JRPG I ever played. I can still remember renting the game from the local rental shop and playing the adventures of Cecil and company with my best friend, Jason. Final Fantasy VI (III in the US) knocked my 14 year old self straight on my ass with an incredible story, characters, art design and soundtrack that I still listen to today. And of course there is Chrono Trigger. Highly regarded as perhaps the best RPG ever developed. Squaresoft was a power house in the SNES era.
That power transitioned seamlessly to the Playstation with titles like Final Fantasy VII (the other game people consider the best RPG ever), Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy IX. We also got a pseudo-sequel to Chrono Trigger with Chrono Cross. Square even tried branching out into new genres with fighting games such as Tobal, and even action shooters like Einhander. While some of these other titles were misses with the masses, Square was still king when it came to what counts.
And then came the Playstation 2.
Kingdom Hearts is probably the most notable achievement by Squaresoft during this period with two solid releases over the PS2’s lifespan. Final Fantasy X was also released and while a strong enough title to fit into the catalogue, as a gamer I could tell things were different. Where the hell was my airship? Where was my overworld map? Where was the sense of wonder and discovery that I had with this franchise for the last decade?
While Final Fantasy X was still good, it signaled a change in the series that ultimately tanked it for me. Final Fantasy XI was released as an MMO (WHAT?!), and XII bared almost no resemblance to previous entries as an over-complicated and over-stuffed story was strangled by a battle system that was NO fun.
And then came the Playstation 3.
I won’t waste much time talking about the abomination that is Final Fantasy XIII. But at this point in my life, Final Fantasy is nothing but a memory. It is truly sad to see that my once all time favorite franchise is withering on the vine.
I miss all the great things that Final Fantasy used to be. I miss Chocobo stables. I miss Biggs and Wedge. Airships that you could actually fly. And Nobuo Uematsu’s soaring scores.
And so it was with great amazement to me that when Final Fantasy XV was revealed at last year’s E3 that it… looked GOOD! (gasp) Flash forward to Tokyo Game Show this year and it… looked BETTER! (gasp). And the most amazing thing of all is that this Final Fantasy doesn’t strike any nostalgic feelings for me. I still don’t see the Chocobo stables or the towering castles. There were no hulking wooden ships soaring through the sky. But there was an intriguing looking story in play. The world looked alive. The characters interesting. And the battles amazing.
While Final Fantasy XV looks to be moving further away from the games of old, it looks to finally be moving at least in a direction that I am excited about. I have not looked forward to a Final Fantasy release for many years, and I am thrilled that perhaps Square is finding a way to breathe life back into my old friend.
As I look at the state of Square and the amazingly different Final Fantasy XV, I find myself conflicted. I still think changing the things that made Final Fantasy what it was is what killed the franchise. And I still pine for the way things used to be. But there’s no denying how strong the future looks.
Maybe change can be good for me. And maybe Square is on it’s way to being the best again at what they do.