I really don’t have the time to be writing right now. Between my editor-ly duties and my day job and the end of the year bonanza we have going on, it’s really all I can do to remember to sleep and have my customary six helpings of pizza a day. But I just can’t sit quietly anymore. I am absolutely sick and goddamn tired of Final Fantasy VII and Square Enix needs to move on.
I hate Final Fantasy VII. Not for what it is. It’s a passable, even decent, JRPG with a few characters I don’t feel like throttling and a few marginally interesting themes. Even if it’s not a good game (and I’m prepared to concede that it might be), it’s relatively harmless by itself. But I hate it for what it did to the series…and what it’s done to Square Enix. Square Enix is absolutely obsessed with this game, and it’s really no wonder. It’s the last unequivocally good thing they’ve produced in the Final Fantasy franchise (if not their entire catalogue, though that’s more arguable). Every other game has been marred by this criticism or that, but Final Fantasy VII was lauded as one of the greatest innovations of the series at the time.
But let’s be honest with ourselves. We were all so blown away by the technology, by the spectacle of it, that we overlooked its flaws. And you know what? That’s fine. We’ve had worse games than Final Fantasy VII receive critical acclaim because of their technical accomplishments. But the fact that it’s being lauded by the gaming community as this timeless achievement in our medium is a disservice to all the excellent JRPGs that came before and after it, JRPGs that are equally excellent or, at risk of getting stabbed and left dying in the street for daring to impugn the unimpugnable, even moreso.
But I don’t even mind that so much. I feel a stabbing pain in my heart (though that might be all the pizza) every time someone votes for Final Fantasy VII (or Ocarina of Time, just to open another can of worms) on a “best games of all time” poll, let alone when either of those games win, but that’s ultimately harmless.
What isn’t harmless is that Square Enix has equated this temple of mediocrity, a game that would probably have been shunted to the discount bin a month after its release if it came out in 2015, with the pinnacle of their creative genius. Not only has all of the worst parts of Final Fantasy VII – the irritatingly brooding, childish loner protagonist, the focus on spectacle over substance, the convolution of the plot to the point that it’s next to impossible to follow without having the cliffnotes open next to you, etc – carried over to each subsequent entry, but now we’re seeing Squeenix falling back on the game itself in an effort to reclaim some of its former glory, dare I even say some of its former relevance.
Let’s not mince words here: the Final Fantasy name is floundering. Sure we’re getting some hype for Final Fantasy XV, but I’ve seen just as many people wary about the release after the colossal flop of Final Fantasy XIII (and its two direct sequels), a sharp downswing for a series that was already trending downward (though to be fair, I actually liked parts of Final Fantasy XII, and that part’s name was Balthier). I don’t expect anything but more of the same insipid and yet somehow convoluted tripe from a series on decline, a series so past its prime that it has to desperately cling to its one last stand of relevance. Honestly, given all that, it makes sense that Square Enix would try and go back to its roots for a cheap attempt to grab some more cash and try and bring their public opinion up.
But maybe the problem is, they aren’t going back far enough to find relevance. They didn’t go to their roots. They went to a chunk of the trunk, a meaningless piece of bark that is indistinguishable and unremarkable from the rest of the tree.
Let’s be clear here, the absolute worst part of the public’s, and as a result Square Enix’s obsession with Final Fantasy VII is the fact that the rest of the series’ excellent entries – some before and some after – get shunted to the side as unimportant. I mean seriously. Look at what Final Fantasy VII is getting. LOOK AT IT.
Now look at what Final Fantasy VI – arguably the second or first best Final Fantasy game depending on who you ask – got.
This slipshod garbage is likely the last release Final Fantasy VI, one of the most venerable entries in the series and indeed the entire genre, will see for decades, if not ever. Even Final Fantasy IV got a complete remake when it was introduced on the 3DS. But for Final Fantasy VI, the best we get is this half-assed remaster. This for one of the greatest JRPGs of all time. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.
Now, most of this editorial has been hyperbolic (I hope that much was obvious). I’m not actually as angry as I sound, but I am disappointed. I’m disappointed that a good game is treated like a great game while other great games are roundly ignored because they were from a much less hyped time. I liked Final Fantasy VII and I am, believe it or not, excited to give it another try. I’m even prepared to admit that I remember it less fondly than it deserves due to the fact that I’m an old-school Final Fantasy fan at heart and, for better or worse (in my opinion, worse), Final Fantasy VII has irrevocably changed the series.
But my thesis remains unchanged: Squeenix’s obsession with this one good game they made is unhealthy for them as a company and our continued re-hyping of this game is encouraging this bad behavior. Squeenix needs to move away from the tropes that Final Fantasy VII started, not embrace them further. Unfortunately, by the time Final Fantasy IX – a game that seemed to be shying away from some of the conventions that FFVII started – came out, I think people were so sick of the series that they didn’t even want to give it another try…until the next-generation version came out with its shiny graphics and, of course, its adherence to many of the same old tired and broken tropes.
For a company that claimed to have learned their lesson after the runaway success of Bravely Default, Squeenix sure seems all too eager to fall back on bad habits. And the entry in the series that started them all.
Let me just close with this: if Final Fantasy VI got a loving, technically-impressive rework to the level that Final Fantasy VII is getting, I seriously doubt we’d even be having the discussion of what the best Final Fantasy game is. And I think remembering where the franchise really came from would benefit Square Enix a lot more than going back to one of their most lackluster and over-hyped experiences.