|naoki yoshida, from his new year’s note
old squaresoft were my people. my people. the original final fantasy was the first game my parents ever bought me for my NES after the super mario bros./duck hunt double cartridge and we’ve been homies ever since. they made a slew of other games for older systems that are fun enough to occasionally hook them up and play again. chrono trigger and breath of fire are a couple of examples – but final fantasy topped them all. after the first one came FF IV and VI for the SNES (II and III in the US) and those kept up that same level of quality and fun. then came the playstation era, which added a higher graphical component and deeper gameplay. not to mention it gave us the greatness that was final fantasy VII. and then of course FF X for the PS2 – ambitious in depth, a “just out there enough” story, and featuring the power of the PS2.
then it died.
out of the first 10 final fantasy games, including the re-releases, i consider at least 5 of them to be “great” games. these games had good combat systems, deep and twisting storylines, and offered hours upon hours of gameplay. and they all had one thing in common: they had me hooked in the first 15 minutes of play. but then square merged with enix, and somewhere around then the franchise went into decline. i’m not saying that it happened BECAUSE of the merger, but the timing does seem relevant. X-2, the first direct sequel to any FF game, was ok, but just didn’t have that same level of depth. the idea of final fantasy online didn’t appeal to me so XI was out. and i couldn’t play XII for more than 30 minutes without getting irritated at pretty much everything. and finally, the for first current-generation offering of final fantasy XIII, the graphics are incredible, the story’s alright, the faster battle system is kind of fun (though a little dumbed down), but the game is almost completely linear. it felt like it completely lost the open-world, visit towns, explore rooms, talk to NPC’s tradition that was a big part of the franchise since its origin. but it is visually gorgeous. i will give it that for sure. click the screenshot below and to the right for a full screenshot.
now square-enix makes another foray into the online realm with their latest installment, final fantasy XIV. they released it just this past fall, to the near-universal panning from both game critics and fans alike. convoluted gameplay. terrible interface. horrible economy system. unbelievably boring grinds compared to other MMO’s. bad enough for the CEO to apologize to the fans in december and extend their trial period indefinitely, because they even feel bad taking money for this kind of horror. and also bad enough that in october, a major square-enix stockholder (not like a majority holder, but 1%, which is a pretty sizable chunk) instructed his broker to sell every share he had. “first thing in the morning tomorrow, i intend to instruct those who manage my precious square enix stock (however little it may be) to arrange to sell all of it,” he said. “to square, thank you for the enjoyment of your products up until now, with the exception of this last one. goodbye” [gamesradar]. pretty heavy. heavy enough to ding square-enix’s stock value by 4% by himself.
|screenshot, from finalfantasyxiv.com
i understand that a final fantasy MMO is meant to stand on its own, and their goal is to make it unique to other games on the market. but isn’t anyone on the dev team play any other MMO’s? any guild wars fans? any of them check out competitors like world of warcraft to see how user interfaces and other features are done properly? blizzard’s stranglehold on the MMO market won’t soon be broken, and whether to appease fans or use us only as streams of steady revenue, they know what they’re doing, and keep their players. we’re talking 12 million subscribers strong by the time final fantasy XIV was even released, so maybe some mild emulation might have been called for.
so after a major staff restructuring, new producer/director naoki yoshida has made it his new year’s resolution to make this right with the fans – using four key words in his plan: “fun,” “live,” “reboot,” and “rebuild.” and he’ll need all of these, in fast order, to bring back fans that they’ve miffed with this sub-square offering. while most of this flak is coming from the poor, almost unfinished quality of the game, another part of it is coming from who’s producing it. it’s beneath square, a studio that’s shaped how RPG’s go in the last quarter century. in the note (check the provided link above) yoshida is extremely optimistic, saying that the “last few weeks of 2010 were tumultuous times for us all” but stressing that these are new times and they are moving in new directions. which is promising in theory, because the only direction they have left is up.