One month to go to the release of Tales of Xillia on the PS3! 🙂 Ever since I played Tales of Graces f (which is now my second favourite RPG of all time behind Final Fantasy VIII), I have been leaning more towards the Tales series and growing more distant from the Final Fantasy series.
Over the past few years, I feel that Final Fantasy has strayed too far from its roots and what made the series great in its heyday. The decline started with Final Fantasy X-2 (not FFX as most people believe, because while FFX did not retain all the traditional aspects of a JRPG (exp levelling system, open world exploration), it did have the full Final Fantasy package – storyline, graphics, minigames (although no card game, Blitzball is an acceptable and thoroughly enjoyable replacement), turnbased combat, limit breaks (in the form of Overdrives) lots of treasure and summons.
I’m not saying FFX-2 wasn’t fun, but it just didn’t have that Final Fantasy atmosphere. Instead of saving the world, you spend 75% of the game goofing around and chasing skimpily dressed villains in skimpy outfits yourself (okay fine, that part was enjoyable). But there’s no real sense of urgency and most of the game was just one big mashup of minigames (some just downright annoying). Also, did they really need a sequel to FFX? The ending of FFX was conclusive enough. Personally, I felt it was a Square Enix gimmick and just an attempt to cash in on the success of FFX (and this cash in gimmick would be repeated in later years).
Final Fantasy XI was the first FF to be an MMORPG. It was one of the first truly successful MMORPGs worldwide (back then, World of Warcraft did not exist). The game was immersive, huge, had plenty of FF lore and hundreds of thousands of FF fans could play together. What could go wrong? For one thing, MMORPGs were still new back then. While it had amazing graphics for its time, lots of content, good trading system, it was INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATINGLY DIFFICULT. A standard 1v1 fight against a monster your level would go anywhere from one to ten minutes depending on your job (god help you if you’re a White Mage soloing a behemoth) and the outcome of the fight would either be 100 exp (exp to next level increases with level, at level 1 you need 500 exp to level up, at level 74 you need 42,000 exp) or death (and you lose 10% of your exp every time you die). Once you reach level 40 or so, it becomes impossible to solo since mobs too low for your level don’t give exp anymore, and you’d be hard-pressed to solo a monster 5 levels lower let alone your level. Most quests in FFXI require a party to complete, in fact dungeon bosses require more than 72 people in an alliance to even have a hope of defeating. Nevertheless, there were many interesting things to do such as fishing (which was a minigame!), chocobo raising and racing, airships (which sometimes were attacked by pirates and you could never leave your character afk while on an airship), ships, quests, story missions (Guild Wars 2 copied FFXI in this too). The biggest downside? Monthly subscription fee. However, all MMORPGs had subscription fees back then so FFXI can’t be blamed for this.
FFXII was when the Final Fantasy series really hit its decline. Boring plot, uninteresting characters, completely unrecognisable leveling system, open world combat (while this is not necessarily a bad thing in games, Final Fantasy is not suited for action RPG combat). And the fact that the game can be beaten by one simple combination at level 20. Haste + Zodiac Spear. Yes, you can get Vaan’s ultimate weapon at level 20.
The Fabula Nova Crystalis saga had the opportunity to repair the Final Fantasy name, but made a botch of it. While FFXIII retained the series battle encounters and ATB combat system, it had the same problem that made FFX-2 terrible – no open world exploration. In fact, they made it worse by making it a linear path through every area with no option of revisiting previous locales right until the final boss (and even then only three past areas). Also, no minigames. 😦
Square Enix attempted to correct this injustice to the FF name by releasing FFXIII-2, the sequel to FFXIII. FFXIII-2 was marginally better and slightly more enjoyable than FFXIII, but not by much. It had minigames (a casino just like FFVII!), let you revisit past areas (in fact, you were required to revisit many past areas so many times it became confusing. Yet each area still suffered from a linear exploration path), a fresh party-building mechanic in the form of monster taming and a more light-hearted atmosphere compared to FFXIII’s grim futuristic environment. The problem was that to fully experience the game, you had to purchase DLC chapters. Even in the Colosseum, where you could battle cameo characters and bosses from past FF games, you had to first BUY (with real cash, not gil) those boss battles in order to fight them.
In the recent FFXV (formerly FFXIII Versus) trailer, it seems that Square Enix is trying to go the way of FFXII by choosing action RPG combat again. To be honest, the characters don’t really sound that interesting to me and none really stand out like Squall (FFVIII), Cloud (FFVII), Yuna (FFX) or even Steiner (FFIX). But it’s still in the prototype phase so let’s hope this time Square Enix redeeems itself.
On a side note, FFXIV: A Realm Reborn is slated for an August 27, 2013 release. According to user reviews, they have made the game a lot better than its original state. Still, I don’t see it being a competition to the MMORPG giants like WoW or Guild Wars 2.
Also, Tales of Symphonia HD Collection is coming to PS3!!! YAY! Release date to be confirmed, but rumoured to be 2014.