I am not a fan of the term “clickbait.” It’s often used as a way to negate a person’s opinion without actually addressing the content of their statements. It’s most often associated with “SJW” (or Social Justice Warrior) topics, such as those discussing racial/gender biases in nerd culture. Sometimes, however, it’s the most appropriate term. Sometimes, an article is just pushing buttons for the sake of pushing buttons, whipping up a frenzy over a perceived slight to gain notice. I’m not even innocent of this, though I assure you I only do so with the intention to entertain and not to witch-hunt.
There are a few topics that geek culture is easily riled over, and these are easy topics for clickbait. The Star Wars prequels, the Matrix sequels, the Schumacher Batman movies, and many more are targets of nerdy rage whenever mentioned. There’s a common thread across most of these—they’re new entries in a cultural darling that don’t quite match up with their predecessors. Many use the same shorthand for these entries: they don’t exist. “It’s a shame there was only one Matrix movie!” “I sure am glad they stopped making Star Wars movies after Return of the Jedi!” “Final Fantasy ended after FFX!”
And hey, look at that last one! Final Fantasy is a series near and dear to my heart. The games are great comfort food to me, and I have fond memories of sharing those games with friends and family. Today, a friend posted a Cracked article about the decline of the Final Fantasy series. There are plenty of reasons to have lost interest in the direction of the series. I’m not here to defend some of the odd choices Square Enix has made regarding the series in the past few years. Rather, I’m here to examine the flawed logic and pointless rage that drives one to write an article like this, and the witch hunts that spawn in the comments soon thereafter.
Mostly, though, it’ll be fun to take the piss out of some nerd rage.
Let’s start with this sterling title here:
Oh man, this is the Cadillac of angry geek article titles. This is the cold drink after a long day of working outdoors. This is a fireplace in the dead of winter. This title is truly a work of art.
Let’s get the easy part out of the way. It’s a list. Lists are lazy, right? Well, lists are also fun to read, or else people wouldn’t click them, so let’s just give that one a pass. Let’s focus on that whole “Failed Worse Than Any Franchise Ever” part. That’s where the gold lies, because there are some heavy hitters that the author believes Final Fantasy has surpassed:
You want more? I could do this all day.
We got the point? I hope so, because while I could do this all day, I wouldn’t mind doing some other things today as well.
The point is, we’re starting out hyperbolic. Let’s see if we can top it, breaking down each of the five points.
5. It’s Drowning In Pointless Spinoffs
Final Fantasy has spun off a lot, this is true. Some of these are not great—undeniable. That doesn’t necessarily drown a franchise, but it can weaken the brand name. But let’s break down some of these blocks, because some are doozies.
Before “Final Fantasy” got slapped on everything short of Tonberry vibrators, it used to have a specific meaning. Every year or two a Final Fantasy game would come out, and every time it would deliver the same experience. You’d get a brand-new setting, cast, story, and combat system, but enough familiar elements that it was easy to jump right in.
Let’s start with the obvious: “Tonberry vibrators” is not as funny as the author thinks. I imagine they chuckled at the visual, but clever and vaguely sexual don’t necessarily go hand in hand.
First off: if you’re going to say that each game delivers the same experience, proceeding to then list just about every element of the game changing completely is probably a questionable next step. Final Fantasy has regularly reinvented itself, being far more daring with changes to established formula than its long-time rival series, Dragon Quest. Final Fantasy VIII still falls well within the author’s arbitrary range of “the good Final Fantasy games”, and it diverged in some pretty wild ways from the norm.
The author makes sure to point out that one of the special things about the early games was the story. And that’s true! These characters are iconic, and while they may be simple now, they were more complex than a lot of what we saw at the time. But we can’t pretend that a game having a plot was exclusive to Final Fantasy. There were plenty of plot-driven RPGs before, during, and after the author’s heydey of the series here. Final Fantasy gained a lot of popularity for hitting the right notes at the right time, which is a function of a whole host of factors. If localization of Japanese games was a bit more reliable in the SNES era, perhaps we’d be having this conversation about Fire Emblem or Super Robot Wars.
The author then takes a dig at Final Fantasy All The Bravest, which is legit. That game was a straight up crime, and deserves pretty much any trash people throw its way.
But then he gets to the crux of his argument:
It took 14 years for the first 10 games to come out, during which there were a handful of well-regarded spinoffs.
Alright dude, let’s take off the rose tinted glasses and stop pretending these never happened:
Since X was released in 2001 there’s been one mediocre main installment and one awful installment, one mediocre MMO and one completely bungled MMO, and more forgettable spinoffs than there are people on the planet. Crystal Chronicles, Crystal Defenders, Dissidia, Dimensions, Theatrhythm, Explorers, Record Keeper, Flan Fuckers … the list goes on and on. “Final Fantasy” isn’t a sign of quality anymore; they’re words that make you think, “Oh God, what stupid bullshit have they come up with now?”
Saying FFXIII is awful is fair enough, though there are plenty who would argue that. Saying FFXII is mediocre goes against just about every critic and a majority of the fans (though those who wanted more of the same might not have been happy), but as I’ve stated before, for my money XII is better than X. Opinions, etc.
Again, saying FFXI is mediocre is fair—it certainly wasn’t my cup of tea, but it still has a stable user base to this day. That’s more than can be said for a lot of MMOs today. Writing off FFXIV as a bungled MMO is just willfully ignoring the last two and a half years. While the initial release was a mess, the game rebooted in August of 2013 to major acclaim. With a dedicated and communicative director at the helm, the game has comfortably nestled in Best Of lists for the last two years. It’s also the only major MMO besides World of Warcraft still flourishing as a subscription service, which might warrant a second opinion beyond “bungled” despite a messy initial release.
The real issue here is the list of spinoffs. Let’s get the easy targets out of the way first—
more spinoffs than people on the planet
C’mon, that’s some amateur hour! Can’t we get more creative?
I rescind my complaint.
That aside, you’re picking some awful examples of the worst the series has to offer. You just mentioned All The Bravest! There’s your golden goose! Instead you pick one of the best co-op RPGs on the Gamecube, a critically praised fighting game series, one of the best portable rhythm games of all time, probably the best free to play mobile game of all time… even your other examples are at worst forgettable. You had Dirge of Cerberus and Spirits Within just waiting for you! Go for the gold!
This is a common complaint within geek rage. “It just doesn’t mean what it used to! Final Fantasy isn’t a mark of quality any more!” I get the frustration there, but it’s hardly unique to a single series. A conscientious buyer will know what they’re getting into when they buy a game, and those spin-offs offer something great for fans of other genres. I am ecstatic every time I pick up a Theatrythm game, as my love of Final Fantasy is only surpassed by my love of Final Fantasy music. Any series has the potential to drop a stinker. Even in the old days, not every game was for everyone. FFVIII is looked upon fondly by most, but many fans despised the game upon release, as the unique systems in place changed game balance in a major way. But for the fans, it’s great that they were able to experiment like that. The internet is a thing, we can find out if a game is up our alley before we go drop our dollars on it.
Before we move on to his next point, let’s look at my favorite paragraph from this whole shebang. It doesn’t illuminate any grand points about nerd culture, but the irony in it is just delicious.
No successful franchise, especially a game franchise, is immune to spinoffs. Mario has played every sport known to man. But no franchise just stopped giving a shit as abruptly as Final Fantasy did. Mario’s extracurricular activities usually have thought and effort put into them.
Mario Party has ten mainline titles and a portable spinoff or two. Since Mario Party 3, they have been critically panned near-universally. Let’s not even start on the decline of the Tennis series, the poorly received Paper Mario: Sticker Star, the depressing Olympic crossovers, or even the older educational Mario titles.
Final Fantasy’s spinoffs are lazy money grabs with about as much original thought put into them as a BuzzFeed article.
Presented without comment.
Oh, and Mario isn’t the new spokesperson for Louis freaking Vuitton.
Technically correct. He is a Japanese spokesperson for Mercedes.
That’s why you can do this in Mario Kart:
4. They Forgot How To Write A Coherent Story
FFIV is about a knight who saves the world and atones for his sins. V is about stopping an evil sorcerer.VI is about overthrowing an evil government. VII is about overthrowing an evil corporation. VIII is a gay romance gone wrong. IX is about a war with a sinister plot behind it. Tactics is about a war with a sinister plot behind it, but on a grid.
Ok, those are… decent TL;DRs of those plots. Not great, not complete, but fair enough. Well, except for VIII. Dude, you’ve gotta lay off the weird, juvenile humor. It’s not working for ya.
XIII begins in Cocoon, where citizens of Bodhum are being Purged by PSICOM, soldiers of the Sanctum, for coming in contact with a fal’Cie from Pulse. The fal’Cie are turning people into l’Cie, who have a Focus, but if the l’Cie fail to complete their Focus they’re turned into Cie’th. Our hero, Lightning, teams up with members of NORA to rescue her l’Cie sister from the fal’Cie Anima, and the story continues naturally from there. Did you get all that? If so, please explain it to me.
Aw snap, we doing this? Hells yeah, I can play!
XIII is about slaves fighting against destiny.
VI starts in Narshe, where a half-esper girl, under a Slave Crown created by the deranged jester Kefka, is in search of the Esper Trioch on behalf of the Gestahlian Empire. She soon finds herself teaming up with some Moogles, rescued by a member of the Returners and escaping on a Chocobo seeking help from the lords of Figaro Castle. They tap into the power of the Espers who have died, stored in Magicite, finding Magicite Factories harvesting the power of the Espers to create a Magitek empire. Of course, this all ties back to the War of the Magi and the entrance to the Esper World that could demolish the world. Kefka Doma Kolts Ultros Typhon Maudin Zozo Umaro.
We can do this for literally any story ever told. Your language lies to us, sir, and you wield it as a weapon, you scoundrel!
XIII throws more made-up and unexplained words at you than a cat playing Scrabble.
Sweetie, we need to teach you about metaphors.
Now the rest of his complaints levied against FFXIII are valid. It’s not for everyone, and its weaknesses are well documented. But it takes more than a single confusing narrative to sink an entire franchise, especially to sink it more thoroughly than any other franchise in the history of all everything.
He also mentions, to his dismay, that Bravely Default is the best traditional Final Fantasy game released in recent years. He laments that Square has learned nothing from it and seems to be making another confusing narrative for FFXV. Tuck that one away for a bit. I’ll be coming back to it waaaaay at the end, but it kinda ties the whole thing together.
3. They Forgot How To Tell A Story In A Single Game
Final Fantasy’s storytelling problem is compounded by what I call the Fabula Nova Crystallis Excelsior Flapjack Boogaloo Conundrum
C’mon bud, let’s start off stronger than this. The name is ridiculous enough without adding more words. If you were gonna amp it up, we can aim higher than “Excelsior Flapjack Boogaloo”. Dig deep into that vocabulary! I believe in you! We’ll figure out humor one of these days, you and me. We’re gonna rule the world.
But here’s another point that’s a fair criticism, though not exactly fodder for that “Worst Failure Ever” title. Most Final Fantasy games now have a number of spinoffs. But the problem might not be so cut-and-dried as he makes it:
Are you looking forward to re-experiencing VII’s nicely self-encapsulated story? Well, too goddamn bad, because now you need to play Before Crisis, Crisis Core, and Dirge Of Cerberus to get the full experience. Oh, and watch Advent Children and Last Order. Drag out a simple plot point with unnecessary backstory, save the world you already saved, but this time do it as an emo vampire, and watch the doodles on your junior high math book come to soulless life! You don’t have anything better to do with your time, do you?
Well, yeah, I do have better things to do with my time, but the nice thing is that I don’t have to play all these games. I just went back and replayed VII recently, and surprise, it still holds up as a self-contained (I’m not sure self-encapsulated is a phrase, bud) story! I still remember the surrounding story, though its absence is not really felt in playing the core game. Does that mean these games were unnecessary? Maybe. Hell, I’ll give you Probably. But the freedom to explore can create some cool stuff. While Dirge of Cerberus is widely regarded as a failure, Crisis Core is quite a fun game in its own right. Advent Children wasn’t exactly high art, but it had some neat action and allowed Square to try their hand at movies again. Did it fail? Depends who you ask, but for some, it’s a good time—one that doesn’t diminish the greatness of the original game at all! Tacking on Before Crisis, which we never even received in America, feels a bit reach-y though. You’ve got plenty of other spinoffs, no need to embellish!
But this one hurts me to admit a bit:
To put it another way, VI has a character declare, “My life is a chip in your pile! Ante up!” which makes you want to go punch a villain’s stupid evil face in. In XIII, Lightning’s explanation of her name is “Lightning. It flashes bright, then fades away. It can’t protect. It only destroys,” which risks putting a permanent cringe on your face. Who wants to grind through multiple spinoffs with a character that joyless?
Let’s remove nostalgia. Let me pretend I have no context, that I didn’t grow up loving Final Fantasy VI, that XIII isn’t a more poorly received game.
Both of those lines are really cheesy.
2. Gaming Has Matured, But Final Fantasy Has Regressed
I’ll level with you here—at this point, the author uses a bunch of pictures of Lightning in embarrassing outfits from Lightning Returns to prove the point that Final Fantasy has kinda slid back into sexist territory, and I pretty much agree with him. I was actually kind of looking forward to Lightning Returns, and those outfits are what made me decide not to dive in until long after release, when it was dirt cheap. Even then, I avoided certain equipment as I just felt dirty playing a game wherein the developers outright told fans that they increased the character’s breast size, then gave her smaller shields to better view them during gameplay. They proudly trumpeted around these skimpy outfits, and it’s pretty distressing to see.
But there are a couple of points to make here. First off, it’s not just Final Fantasy. A huge contingent of Japanese game developers continue to move this way as moe culture explodes. I won’t go into too much depth here, but feel free to Google moe culture. Then, for examples from the rest of the industry, look up any game by Compile Heart. Look up the Atelier series. Check out Senran Kagura, Akiba’s Trip, Onechanbara, Dead or Alive, or… hell, a solid quarter of the games coming from Japan today. That doesn’t excuse it, but it certainly gives some context. While America becomes more attentive to the fact that it’s not just white dudes playing their games, Japan has had less reason to start that discussion. That’s not to say all Japanese developers are oblivious, nor that American devs don’t hop on the creep-train now and again.
But let’s not forget that that’s just a single game in the series. Yes, Lightning Returns really, really undercuts their “strong female lead” with an abundance of bikinis and cat ears and there’s really no excusing that. But just for giggles, let’s remember that the series isn’t above pandering both ways:
Maybe that last one isn’t pandering to anyone. Like, ever.
1. Creators And Fans Have All Stopped Caring
Naw, we aren’t going there, are we? I feel like we’ve gotten to know each other so well over this post, bud, but we’re not gonna say something this dumb, are we?
Let’s start with your first point here. Yes, Squeenix has dumped out some pretty poor ports for FFV and FFVI recently. They’re ugly, and they made no attempts to fix the issues when they ported them to PC. Fans have mostly ignored these ports and rightfully so. But onto your other points…
I seem to be at the end of the article.
Did you forget to finish, bud? Did you get tired of writing? That’s not how you back up the rather grand claim “nobody cares anymore”, that’s how you back up the claim “Squeenix made a couple of shit ports”. And well done on that front! But clearly people care.
You care. You wrote 3000 words on the subject, and I hope you didn’t waste that much time on something you don’t care about.
I care. I wrote over 3000 words just talking about your words, not just for fun, but because this series means something to me.
The developers care. Have you ever tried making a game? It’s fucking hard! Nobody just does it because they have nothing better to do! You have to work eternity hours every week! Have you ever read anything from the directors of XIV and XV? They eat sleep and breathe the games they work on!
The fans care. They read this article. They were disappointed when the V and VI ports were low quality. The fans erupted when that FFVII remake trailer hit. FFXIV has a thriving subscriber base. Go to a convention sometime and count the Final Fantasy cosplayers. In fact, count the cosplayers purely from FFXIII. See how many fans even, in your words, the least of these games has.
When you stop caring, you stop being disappointed. You stop being excited. You just move on to play something else. Something like Bravely Default!
You see, you already solved your own problem. Bravely Default is exactly what you were looking for. Awesome! There’s a brand new series to play! You say that Square Enix didn’t learn from it, but clearly they did. Bravely Second comes out in April for the US! This series is going places, and old school Final Fantasy fans have a refuge. Final Fantasy has evolved in a different direction. That direction has plenty of fans, but maybe it doesn’t 100% overlap with the old fans. But that’s fine! We grow, our tastes change, and we adapt. I’m not big into Power Rangers or Scooby Doo any more either, even though they continue to make new series and I used to be a fan in my younger days. Luckily, I can just turn on some anime, watch some Doctor Who, or laugh at any of the dozens of comedy series my magic game box will just stream for me whenever I want.
It’s pretty great that, as the Final Fantasy series has moved on, other games have stepped in to take its place. And the best thing? The existence of new Final Fantasy games does absolutely nothing to take away from your enjoyment of the older games. Is the best version of Final Fantasy VI still the Gameboy Advance version? Good news, the game’s pretty cheap on eBay. Was Final Fantasy VII a great standalone game? Well buddy, I guarantee you, you go back and play it—it still is!
And to the fans in the comments? Let’s not pretend that the newer games don’t exist. It’s childish and overdone. There are three Matrix movies. Two of them weren’t great. There were three Star Wars prequels. None of them lived up to the originals. The Final Fantasy series marches on. Maybe it’s not for you any more. But hey, we’re in a new golden age of Sci-Fi! Star Wars is back on track! You’ve still got Bravely Default, and Lost Odyssey, and countless other fantastic RPGs every year! Life is pretty good. We’ve got more entertainment than we know what to do with. Most gamers have a tremendous backlog of great games that they’ll never get through. Sometimes it’s sad to think we’ll never recapture the exact joy of a game we loved in our youth, but what better way to enjoy the fullness of life than to make new memories, to enjoy something unlike what you’ve enjoyed before? Read a book from a genre you’ve never read! See if camping is for you! Hell, we’re all nerds here, just try a unique game experience! Have you tried Danganronpa? It’s quite unlike anything else I’ve played, even other visual novels! You should really try it!
So what do you say, bud? Any last words?
And hey, at least Dragon Quest is still going strong, right?
Actually, that post was about a lackluster press conference, not-
Aw, forget it, ya little scamp. You do you, buddy.
You do you.