I’ve been a supporter of the Final Fantasy franchise for years, starting from the first game I played way back in 1997. The game that caught my attention was Final Fantasy VII, the highly renowned and critically acclaimed game that would go on to blow the world away.The clerk in-charge that day even gave me a wry smile and said I had good taste. With the anticipation now palpable, I rushed home and set up the PlayStation as quickly as I could and put the disk in. From the moment the first cinematic came on, I knew I was in for a ride, and oh boy, what a ride it was. The characters were engaging, well fleshed out and had stories that made them all unique. Tifa, an unassuming farm girl caught up in things bigger than she would ever imagine. Red XIII, the lion-esque creature that wanted to understand more about what happened to his father and protect Cosmo Canyon.
The cast got together to save the planet, and save it they did from the man who wanted it turned into his personal spaceship, Sephiroth. The gameplay was fun, and I didn’t even mind the random encounter system; I was a grinding junkie and loved getting into fights so that I could level up characters. I remembered I was absolutely gutted when Aeris was killed off, not because she was central to the story, but because of the amount of time I had spent training her character, pushing her to the absolute limit before just seeing her meet her end. All that time felt, wasted. I made sure I took my revenge when I pummeled Sephiroth into the ground with my unending Knights of the Round summons and Omnislash limit breaks. All in all, I spent over 150 hours on the game, completing the game 100% before even taking out the disk from the console. I had such a backlog of games then, with Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon waiting patiently in the background while I polished Final Fantasy off.
When the next main installment, Final Fantasy VIII was released in 1999, I too spent almost 120 hours on that, and 135 hours on Final Fantasy IX. That was how much I loved the Final Fantasy franchise; so much that I could not bear trading in my PlayStation for a PlayStation 2 when it came out. I subsequently replayed the games three times each, spending plenty of time on the games on each outing, making sure to get as much out of the games as I could. However, when Final Fantasy XIII came out, and I rushed home to play it, I could not help but realize one thing: I wasn’t as invested in the characters as I once was. Sure, Lightning was a badass with a lot to like, but the other characters were somehow lacking. If we were to speak now about the characters from the other Final Fantasy games, I could rattle off the back stories of each and every character out there in existence, but somehow for Final Fantasy XIII, the characters were so forgettable that I can honestly only remember Hope, because he had about the worst character arc I had ever encountered. Whiny, self-absorbed and generally quite annoying, the character, to me, summed up the game’s story.
Characters made weird decisions that made no sense whatsoever. Why would Hope still want to kill Snow even though he knows, deep down, that there was another to blame? Why would Fang choose to hide the fact that she can become Ragnarok? Villains were so far out of reach that sometimes it made me wonder why I even bothered with them in terms of relevance to the story. Sure, they may have had been touching the lives of the group of freedom fighters, but on the whole, their use as a villain did not seem to impact anything at all. Galenth Dysley, the overarching antagonist of the game, did not seem to create any form of distractions for the heroes in order to further his goals. It all appeared to be incidental problems, things like the government of Cocoon hindering them at every point. This caused him to feel like a very wayside character; a mild irritation at best. Barthandelus’s character design was also something that reminded me of a minor boss from Final Fantasy VIII, the X-ATM092. I just thought to myself when I first saw the boss, “Did they just copy Final Fantasy VIII..?” I thoroughly did not enjoy the game and left it by the wayside after I fought my way through to the end of the game.
Then came Final Fantasy XIV. To be honest, I only started playing it when A Realm Reborn was introduced. At that time I had already lost some faith in the Final Fantasy brand, seeing how Final Fantasy XIII was pushed to its very limit in terms of money grubbing. I had waited for the reviews to be released before deciding to get the game. To me, Final Fantasy XIV was a return to form in the story department. The character designs were great, the villains were interesting, and most importantly, the side characters were well written. Each character had a wealth of lore and made sense to the story as a whole. Yda being actually her younger sister, Lyse, Minfilia using her experience as the leader of the Path of the Twelve from the original Final Fantasy XIV, they all made good use of the lore from prior to the reboot. The antagonists were compelling and intriguing, making me wonder at every turn why they were invested in destroying the world of Eorzea. The new ragtag group of freedom fighters were cool and interesting, making decisions for the betterment of the world. This made me care, for the first time in a long while, about how the world of Eorzea would fare should the bad guys win. The stakes were high, and I loved every moment of it. Even now, I pop in once in a while just to experience the world of Eorzea that I had a hand in saving, remembering the stories and quests that made it all possible.
When Final Fantasy XV was about to be released, I stood in line early outside my local game shop so that I could get my hands on the game as early as possible. Final Fantasy XIV had restored my faith in the storytelling team, and I hoped for more of the same. However, it was not as I had expected it to be. The game was good, with interesting gameplay and great mechanics, but to me, what I felt missing from the title was the characters. Being stuck with the same three companions that you could not necessarily control made me dissociate my story from theirs, which made them less compelling and interesting. Sure they all had their own fleshed out stories and trials and tribulations, from Ignis becoming blind and trying to overcome the physical limitation to Gladiolus trying to become stronger in order to protect Noctis, but at the end of it all the story still seemed like it belonged to Noctis, and all the other characters were just along for the ride. There was DLC that was prepared to show different sides of the whole picture and I looked forward to that, only to hear that the director of Final Fantasy XV had quit the company and that all unreleased planned DLC were scrapped.
That made me sad, as I felt that the game had so much to offer, only for its premature termination to occur. The DLC and fixes that had been released already did much to improve the story and the upcoming DLC for Ardyn will definitely try to explain the intentions of the antagonist, but it is incredibly unfortunate that we will not get to see a more in-depth story for Lunafreya, who, in my opinion, is criminally underdeveloped as a character as she isn’t featured until quite late in the game although being constantly name-dropped throughout the start, Aranea the Dragoon and Noctis himself.
What will now happen to the Final Fantasy franchise? The stories of each game were central to the franchise, and I certainly hope that they will be an improvement over the last two non-MMO entries of the series. A long look at each entry would reveal that they were all variations of the same story arc; central character joins a ragtag group of freedom fighters to prevent antagonists from destroying the world or their way of lives. What made each of them special was the way their characters mattered to the overall story, and this is one of the ingredients that I feel is currently lacking in the series. I hope they find it, and make the next game in the series something unforgettable.