Why ‘Final Fantasy XV’ Is a Lesson in Letting Go of Fandom

     6 days ago

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With Final Fantasy XV due to be released tomorrow after being in in development for over ten years, I’ve thought a lot about my relationship to the Final Fantasy franchise. There have been a slew of ads for the latest main installment in the franchise (there have been countless other games bearing the “Final Fantasy” moniker, but I’ve never paid them much mind with the exception of Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced), and yet every time I see an ad touting the next great fantasy, I find that I don’t care at all.

Back in high school, I was a die-hard Final Fantasy fan. I played Final Fantasy VII to the bone. I leveled up all my characters to 99 (except for Cait Sith because his limit break was too unpredictable), collected all the materia, defeated all of the bosses, and completed every side quest. While I wasn’t as enamored of Final Fantasy VIII, I still bought it the day it came out, and liked aspects of the story and design. I didn’t really care that much for Final Fantasy IX, but I still played it from start to finish. Final Fantasy X was a nice bit of redemption for the series, and I really dug the “sphere grid” system.

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Image via Square-Enix

But after X, I started to drift away from the series. I don’t play MMORPGs, so Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV held no appeal to me. Final Fantasy XII was so bad I couldn’t bring myself to finish it (seriously, who thought “Yes, you need a license to wear a hat,” was a fun gameplay mechanic?), and the reviews on Final Fantasy XIII were so toxic that I didn’t even bother. So it’s been over ten years since I’ve played a mainline title in the Final Fantasy series, and a new generation of consoles and an entirely new story should be enough to give Final Fantasy XV a chance, right?

Except I look at Final Fantasy XV and see nothing appealing. The Final Fantasy series has been around since 1987, and yet here is yet another game where the plot revolves around warring kingdoms and magic crystals. I know that other JRPGs have drawn from this well too, but the developers had ten years to work on a story that could help break XV from the mold, and instead Square-Enix is pushing the same narrative in slightly different clothing.

There also doesn’t seem to be much in the way of an interesting cast. Rather than getting to determine your party and grow attached to the characters you choose, you’re basically stuck with Noctis (never a great sign when your protagonist’s name sounds like “noxious”) and his three bros. And even if the game featured a spectacular celebration of bro-dome, I really don’t have much interesting in hearing about that story. I don’t care about four wealthy dudes who get in an expensive car, go on a road, trip, camp, and fight so that the main wealthy dude can be king.

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Image via Square-Enix

And it’s not that I’m done with JRPGs. I acknowledge that they’re silly and melodramatic, but they can still be fun. I adored Fire Emblem: Awakening, and I’m always on the lookout for fun new additions to the genre (I’m currently crossing my fingers that Persona 5 will be good). I haven’t outgrown JRPGs (although there are certainly fewer good ones today than there were back in the 90s), but I have outgrown Final Fantasy.

I have to lay some of the blame at the feet of Square-Enix, a company that’s a far cry from Squaresoft in terms of cranking out classic titles. They’ve also done some baffling things like creating 3D remakes of Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy IV but not Final Fantasy VI, one of the most revered entries in the series. Their business model seems to be cranking out as many spinoffs as possible with no regard to keeping fans hooked, instead assuming that fans own every system. They’ve tried to remedy this with their recent Kingdom Hearts “remixes”, but it’s hard to be excited for Kingdom Hearts III when it seems like the mythology has become impossibly convoluted over the course of seven spinoffs/prequels/sequels that have been released since Kingdom Hearts II. So in addition to giving up on Final Fantasy XV, I’m dubious I’m going to be going in for Kingdom Hearts III.

Which is hard to admit. Our embrace of certain franchises becomes a part of our identity, especially when it comes to nostalgia. I don’t know if Final Fantasy VII would hold up if I played it again today (and I have mixed feelings about the remake that’s in development), but I know that going forward, I don’t have much interest in what lies ahead for the franchise. It seems like Square-Enix has run out of ideas, and while I’m usually happy about sequels when it comes to video games (I was thrilled that Red Dead Redemption 2 was finally announced), it feels like it’s finally time to say good-bye to Final Fantasy.

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