Recently my fellow Lord Jason Rose (I think of myself as more of a Serf of Gaming, but I’m sure Jason deserves the title) wrote a very stirring piece in defense of the direction of recent Final Fantasy games.
It’s great, and I’d recommend you read it. However, in case you cannot, for whatever reason, here is a summation in Jason’s own words:
Nostalgia is an immensely powerful draw, but it can’t define your future. Demanding Final Fantasy’s return to its roots is a fundamental misunderstanding of what those building blocks are. The past permeates the DNA of every entry. Be it through a subtle nod, familiar adversaries, the series-defining character classes, a theme song, or in-jokes strewn throughout. Just because we no longer view them through a sprite-based lens doesn’t mean Final Fantasy has forgotten where it came from. Change has always been the essence of Final Fantasy and its legendary past remains the blueprint for how Square Enix will push once more to newer, loftier heights.
And to that, I say, you are so close to exactly right! Change is very important to any game franchise. But it’s no more the core of Final Fantasy than any mechanic.
Why You Gotta Be Like This. Can’t You Let People Say What They Want About Final Fantasy in Peace?
This a fair question, but let’s put my personal crappiness aside for a moment. Final Fantasy is a lot of things to a lot of people. To Square Enix, however, it is a commercial property, first and foremost. It’s their best-selling franchise, and they know it.
Human beings are hard-wired to see patterns. When we find something we like, we are prepositioned to want more. Whenever a new Final Fantasy comes out, there are a lot of people who don’t care if it looks good. It can even have all the signs of being terrible, and they’d still buy it. As Jason said, “Nostalgia is an immensely powerful draw.”
I can understand that draw very well. My first Final Fantasy was II, rented from the local video store when I was seven. It wasn’t the first RPG I’d ever played, but it was the first that had such a sweeping storyline. Looking back now, most of the story in II is mediocre and cliche. But for its time, it was a standout. So I bought the next one, and the next. Each was different in many different ways. But they all had a focus on epic stories. One other thing they had was turn-based combat. Until they didn’t.
Why Does That Matter To Final Fantasy?
Maybe it doesn’t! Sure, the series stayed turn-based up until the MMO version, Final Fantasy 11. But XII was more action-oriented than turn-based, and the series has only gotten more and more real-time since. So that means we’ve had just about twenty years of non-turn-based versions. Half the life of the series at this point. Anyone who is put off by change has long since left.
The question then becomes, why is there such an unending cry of “That’s not Final Fantasy anymore!” from all corners? Why are the press and fans lining up to take heads whenever Square Enix announces a new, even more, ARPG-like version? And that’s easy to answer; there isn’t, and they aren’t. Sure, there are people out there who wish turn-based combat would return. But, especially now that we are five games in, I have a hard time believing this decision was a surprise to anyone who cares about the series. There is no one who bought Final Fantasy XV and now refuses to buy Final Fantasy XVI because it’s real-time.
The last game I played in the series was Final Fantasy XII. Even if the epic story was still there, I found I couldn’t stand the more action-oriented combat, so while I’ve kept my eye on new releases, I didn’t buy Final Fantasy XIII or any game after it. To be clear, It’s fine for people to prefer real-time. It’s just absolutely not for me. Final Fantasy doesn’t have to mean turn-based, but I’m not interested in playing if it isn’t.
That Hardly Seems Worth a Rebuttal!
Well, true. But given my perspective, when I saw the article I thought I might write a response. As I read, I had some disagreements, as above. But nothing too intense. Then I found this:
Sadly, many mistake Active Time Battle and other traditional RPG cliches for what the franchise is defined by. When in reality, these systems were designed due to technological limitations.
It’s a claim that has been repeated over and over again for decades. Turn-based is obsolete. But is there any proof? Surely the link would support the words underlined in blue. But the linked article is an interview with the team behind Final Fantasy XVI, not any turn-based entries, and it has nothing to do with what was said. Here is the director Hiroshi Takai from that link:
[W]e want to get this game in the hands of as many people as possible… gamers…are so used to playing games where if you tilt the stick, someone moves. If you press the button, action happens – that is all immediate…trying to push that back [and make players] wait for everything, didn’t feel like the direction that games are moving in.
He’s saying they expect they’ll sell more games if it’s real-time. That’s fair enough, but it’s not an argument about technological limitations. In fact, not too much later, he says this:
[T]o make something where you have two people in the middle of a battle but they’re both just kind of sitting there…waiting for somebody to implement a command…to make that work, somebody’s going to have to work really hard and come up with a really, really cool idea. But I want to leave that for the next generation.
It’s Almost As If They Chose Real-Time Due to Technological Limitations!
Kidding, of course. But the truth is it doesn’t matter what their reasons were. The first games were all real-time. There is precisely one turn-based RPG for the Atari 2600, which was only possible using a peripheral to add memory. Many action RPGs were released in the early eighties, and though the first to actually be an ARPG is debated, the basics of the formula are present in classics like The Legend of Zelda and Ys, both released before Final Fantasy. If the designers of the original games had wanted them to be real-time, they could have done it. But instead, they chose turn-based because that was the game they wanted to make. Turn-based games aren’t some long-forgotten relic of the past. They’ve never gone away.
There are still gaming franchises that are turn-based to this day. They are still very successful, from grand strategy games like Crusader Kings and Civilization to tactical brawlers like XCOM and straight-up RPGs like Persona or Dragon Quest. Slay the Spire, Darkest Dungeon, Midnight Suns… these are just the most significant releases. The Indie space has a whole world of these kinds of games. Their hard-working developers could create first-person shooters or platformers if they wanted to. Instead, they have poured their time, energy, and creativity into turn-based games.
To suggest an entire genre…no, a whole category of games is only ever made “due to technological limitations” is simply not true and does a disservice to their developers and fans. While there may be fewer of them than real-time franchises, I see no evidence that it is down to anything but current tastes and trends. I’m sure my esteemed colleague did not mean to paint with so broad a brush.
So, Where Does This Leave Us?
I don’t expect Final Fantasy to ever be for me again. It’s something I’m very used to at this point. The franchise has been changed repeatedly to appeal to wider audiences. As a result, it’s found a lot of success but left many people who initially loved it behind. Every new game in a series changes, but I don’t believe it’s that change is really at the core of Final Fantasy. Nor do I think that real-time is in any way more innovative or advanced. It seems to me that chasing profits is the real core of Final Fantasy, and that Square Enix thinks real-time gameplay is the key to those profits. They are certainly free to make their game that way, and I am just as free to absolutely hate it.
So, in closing, consider this: If the next Final Fantasy was turn-based, would it prevent you from enjoying it? If so, wouldn’t you have plenty of other real-time games to play to make you feel better? Here’s hoping we get to find out.
Thanks for reading, and I want to make it very clear once again that I have absolutely no hard feelings toward Jason! If you enjoyed this write-up, please check out my review of Miasma Chronicles, a turn-based role-playing game; well, would you look at that? Or if for some inexplicable reason, you want to check out something I didn’t write, you can check out this interview with Midnight Suns and XCOM Creative Director Jake Solomon. I usually change my recommendations for each article, but that was just way too on the nose to change.