As my colleagues and I wrapped up our latest edition of the Games Abyss podcast, we sat around for about an hour and just discussed multiple gripes with some more recent gaming news. As Andy Asimakis and myself watched Justin Belin find every way possible to kill himself in Super Meat Boy (seriously, we have to get on that whole video-casting thing), we stumbled onto the topic of Square Enix’s insanity in thinking that there’s still a chance to surpass the masterpiece that is Final Fantasy VII. We talked about how the glory days of the famed Japanese development team are undeniably behind them, yet we differed on what the future held. I seemed to be alone in the defense of the company because even though the amount of quality titles that have been created since the Enix buyout have waned significantly, I still believed not enough has been done to completely tarnish their overall legacy. Although gradually I find myself wondering more and more what really is going through the collective heads over at everyone’s once favorite RPG developer.
The once gold standard for JRPGs everywhere has certainly been coming up a lot lately. A game like FFVII is never really off the table for conversation. The cat was finally let out of the bag concerning why in blue and orange hell a FFVII remake hasn’t happened yet. Fan boys worldwide have expressed deep and vehement emotion over the idea of slaying Diamond Weapon in HD, or seeing just how much more insane that motorcycle scene would look than it already does. If Squenix truly intends to stick to their reasoning of waiting for another game to surpass it however, odds are pretty good that this will never happen.
For the better part of the last decade or so it seems hating on FFVII has become the trendy thing to do. Sure many gamers are sick of hearing fan boys talk about how incredible it is, but the sales numbers and continued popularity into its PSN release is clear enough proof that people aren’t just fans because of Tifa’s outfit. After all, that’s what the internet is for. I’m sure I don’t even have to mention the CGI movie (I’d like to believe I don’t have to mention this, but I’m speaking about Advent Children…not that other one), Vincent’s spin-off game, the story of Zack’s origin, and countless other examples that Final Fantasy VII has quite the bankable name. Yet regardless of how you view the game, the reason it will never be surpassed isn’t any of the above. You see “surpassed” is as subjective a term as they come without anything attached to it; what really matters is the army of fans who still hold a psychological and emotional attachment to the game.
From the very beginning where Cloud leaps off of that train, you must follow along with a mission you know nothing about except that you have an objective to complete. When you get to Seventh Heaven it becomes very clear that you are a part of something, and it’s the mystery of not knowing everything right away that casts the spell of allure. I remember just walking around the area surrounding the bar ducking in and out of the stores and houses simply because I could; or walking around the wall market as if I were a citizen of Midgar the entire time. I put myself in Cloud’s shoes because he was an easy character to assume and the journey became my own. I became attached to the people I met, accustomed to the areas, and loved finding out more and more things that started off unclear or unknown. Now this wasn’t the first game to inspire such sensations, but it was the first one to do it in the 32-bit world. As unimportant as graphics are to the hardcore gamer as opposed to more core facets such as story and character development, one should never underestimate the power of aesthetics to bait gamers in and convert them into fans. Luckily there was much more going on than just pretty FMV sequences.
For many, Final Fantasy VII was their first true JRPG experience. As one of the best ever regardless of hype, it was a sure win for many hearts. So in order for Square Enix to “surpass” VII, they must first find a way to sever this intangible connection many have. Of course when you factor in the most a Square Enix developed console game has sold in the current generation being a little over 6.2 million, significantly shy of VII’s 9.8 million mark, and the fact that general faith in the quality of following titles have been largely shaken then this is quite the financial feat as well.
This leads into the buzzworthy subject of shoopuf sized proportions, our good friend who is perpetually on and off the radar Final Fantasy Versus XIII. It was in fact this very title that I claimed to be my personal last ray of hope for the future of Square Enix. I chose to withhold my complete loss in faith until I saw what this game could bring to the table. Being romanced solely by trailers is hardly a reliable way of pre-judging a title, so the beautiful looking trailers of Versus XIII could only pique my interest so far into hoping for an overall quality title. Considering how long the game has been in development and all the games in between to keep us wondering what about this project Square wants to keep hidden up their sleeves, it seemed like a fair make or break point. While I am relieved that the rumors of its potential demise were quickly proven false, I had some time to think further on the matter. The venomous clouds that filled my head were ones of contemplation concerning Squenix’s true reasoning behind the heavy focus on not only the XIII name, but the Lightning Saga as well. If the cop out reasoning behind no FFVII remake really isn’t mere placation, are they trying to achieve this higher plane of excellence with the combined powers of multiple storylines in what developers apparently believe was worth sticking with?
Even if the set of rumors pointing to a third installment into the original XIII series ends up being nothing but some old fashion hogwash, I would theoretically be dumbfounded and even maybe a little peeved by the flow of thought synapses going through the collective brains over at Squenix about how in bloody hell this title deserves to be a trilogy. Total sales numbers cannot possibly be an indication this is a good idea money wise, and the community has been largely less than forgiving about the downward spiral XIII-2 took from XIII. A gaming franchise that was once spoken through heralds as must play after must play is now chided in whispers with statements like “Oh, you haven’t beaten XIII yet? That’s ok.” In the case that there is intention for a third game I understand there is likely a more personal goal to complete a story apparently near and dear to the team involved in creating it, but there is a line separating conclusive accomplishment and bad business. If it’s going to happen then there won’t be much we can do about it (unless angry fans want to overrun Kickstarter to make enough money to buy the company).
I would absolutely love for my rising doubts to be proven wrong by whatever the next big FF project is being shockingly successful, but I think seeing Master Chief on a Sony platform would be a safer bet at this point. I can’t see Versus XIII being the new Final Fantasy mastermind in town but my standards are comparing it to its numeric counterparts, not the masterpiece made back in the better days of the JRPG. Therefore that is the extent of the success I expect; and with that hopefully Squenix can take the right steps toward getting back on track.