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Fixing Final Fantasy - Active Topical Banter

Fowl SorcerousFowl Sorcerous Dread News EditorRPGamer Staff
edited December 2014 in Latest Updates
We tackle this issues faced by this benighted franchise, from both the business and creative standpoint. More importantly we attempt to decide whether we should care in the first place.

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Talking Points from the Episode
-Why do we care?
-Broken base
-Isolating the issue(s).
-Bahamut-Man action figure as everything wrong with SE’s approach to game design.
-Hey, there are babies in that bathwater.
-Protagonists should protag.
-Timetables and the sunk costs fallacy
-Spinoffs to the rescue?

Submit any questions to next month's Q&A special in this thread.

Comments

  • NyxNyx Staff Girly Girl RPGamer Staff
    edited November 2014
    Submit any questions to next month's Q&A special in this thread.

    YES DO IT. QUESTIONS! (And not about Rob Ford, he's not mayor any more. :P)
  • OcelotOcelot is not declawed RPGamer Staff
    edited November 2014
    He's never been your mayor, you Markham lucky ducks. ;)
    Becky Cunningham, Staff-at-Large
    Twitter: BeckyCFreelance
  • coyotecraftcoyotecraft Full Members
    edited November 2014
    We know what you play, but what about how you play?

    Are you going to lock yourself in a room. Cover the windows. Turn up the volume. Eliminating distractions and getting invested in the game before you've even hit "new game"
    Or are you multi-tasking. Turning a single-player experience into a social one. Twitting, texting, streaming, browsing the internet, simultaneously sharing your thoughts (or thinking about what you're going to tell people later). Basically breaking away from the game every 10mins or so.

    It's like, restaurants do everything they can to improve their service. But when they compare customer experiences today with 10 years ago the biggest difference is that everyone brings phones to the table now. That's something they aren't in control of. I've been reading all this studies that show people are generally unhappy when their minds are wandering and spread out compared to when they are in the moment.
    With that in mind, at first I was disgusted when I saw that Lightning's Return had social network options to automatically post to your Facebook or twitter account. But now I see it like this "we'll post for you, you just focus on the game". That's probably the best, and only thing that the developers could do to control the game's experience.
  • smacdsmacd Full Members
    edited November 2014
    I have to disagree with Mac's initial premise that the premise is loaded and that the problems with FF stems from the PS3 generation, and I'll agree with the idea that it's actually earlier. The problem really goes back a lot further than than even Trent states, back to the PS1 generation. As we've discussed on the thread for Trent's editorial on the topic, there is a commonly accepted chasm between the the "classic" Final Fantasy (1-6), and the "modern" Final Fantasy (everything after 6). The issues with the PS3 era is just a symptom of a much longer running issue that was seeded in FF7 has steadily grown over the last 17 years into the monstrosity it is today. But I can definitely agree with Mac about Final Fantasy not really being a "series" of games.

    It feels like there are too many hands in the cookie jar. There is nothing cohesive in the games. And its felt that way since FF7 for me. The cinematic thing has not just ruined FF for me, but it really hurt JRPGs in general. I can't stand cinematics, and I really dislike the focus on graphics over pretty much everything else. I'd rather play a game than watch a movie that occasionally lets me twiddle my thumbs every once in awhile. I really like Mac's idea of another FF9-esque old-school throwback.

    What's wrong with FF? At this point, pretty much everything. I don't even know where to start with it anymore. I dislike the games more often than I like them. I really don't enjoy the settings or the battle systems, the plots, the emphasis on graphics over substance, the long development cycles, and the fact that it feels like they just slap the Final Fantasy title on any piece of crap just to make it sell more. Most all of my complaints were voice during the show. Even as a long time fan though, knowing that each game would be very different from the last few, I've been burned far more often than not, and its hard to want to keep giving them the benefit of the doubt.

    What could they do to fix FF? First off, the setting. I can't stand the sci-fi type settings they used in FF7, FF8, FFX, and FF13. The steampunk in FF6 and in airships in general have been alright, but I prefer Fantasy in my Final Fantasy. I'm not interested in Final Sci-Fi. Drop the emphasis on graphics. Re-hire everyone who worked on the classic FFs, and fire everyone else- at this point I wouldn't trust any of the new guard with any of it. But let's be honest, my faith is so burned out that I don't think it can be fixed. I'm more interested in their throwback type games on Android than I am with any numbered game anymore. Until they announce a numbered game that looks like FF6, 9 or 12, I'm pretty much done (and given the numbering history, the next good one should have been 15, since every 3rd game is good, but 15 looks like everything that is wrong with FF right now).

    The thing is though, Final Fantasy has always played second fiddle to Dragon Quest. I won't go into comparing them here since that's not the point of this thread, but my main point in bringing them up is that I think that the biggest problem with Final Fantasy is Squaresoft, and its a disease that has infected more than just that series now. The biggest mistake Enix ever made was to bail out Squaresoft after watching them make huge blunders in the late 90s. I think the entire JRPG genre would be healthier today if Squaresoft had folded then. Unfortunately, Enix bought them out (calling it a merger to help Square save face), and then made a huge blunder in basically allowing the Square side run the entire show. While it is nice that Enix taught Square how to do real remakes (rather than just slapping in a couple minute of anime to the beginning and end and calling it good), all the bad practices that nearly brought down Square have been absorbed by Enix. Final Fantasy is nearly a lost cause to me, but as a company the best thing Square-Enix could do, would be to dissolve back into Squaresoft and Enix, and let Squaresoft burn.

    --
    Do I take notes? Not exactly. I listen while I'm at work and I tend to write my response as I'm listening (the joys of being a software engineer). I try not to listen to this podcast until I know I'm going to have time to sit at my computer for awhile. I'll listen to other things while I'm driving :) Most of what I write is stream of mind, as if I were part of the conversation. And then I tack a bunch of my own crap to the end.
  • nephyonephyo New Member Full Members
    edited November 2014
    I would tend to disagree with the idea that Final Fantasy isn't a series or isn't a cohesive enough series. I think it's just a different kind of series than a lot of gamers who are used to other series of games are used to.

    In general I think the way to think about a series of anything is that it has layers to it like an onion or the Earth's crust. To steal some language Mark Rosewater has used in describing some elements of magic design, I think a good way to think of it is that a series of any kind has a Core, a Mantle, and a Crust.

    The Core of a series are those elements that every element of the series has to have or it isn't that series. If a game lacks anything in the core, then you'd be shocked to see it called "Final Fantasy" and players would not connect with it. For example if a Final Fantasy game was not an RPG at all, I think everyone would agree it should not be a Final Fantasy game. A MOBA can't be a Final Fantasy. Neither can a Soccer Game. At least not a part of the core series. Likewise, Fantasy elements are core to the series. It's kind of in the name. A pure Space Opera would not be a Final Fantasy either.

    The Mantle would be the elements of a series that require a sort of critical mass of them to exist in any particular instance of the series but you don't need absolutely all of them in absolutely every game in order for it to be a part of the series. But if your game lacked EVERYTHING in the Mantle or even MOST stuff in the Mantle then the game wouldn't belong in the series either. For example consider the iconic elements of Final Fantasy such as Moogles, Chocobos, Crystals, Airships, ATB, A Character name Cid, Buhamat, Science Fiction Elements, Giant Monsters, Summons, Black/White/Red Mages, Cactuar, etc. You can certainly imagine any particular Final Fantasy not having any one or even several of those elements and it could still be a Final Fantasy. Indeed you can probably think of a game in the core series that lacks each one. But if a game had NONE of these things well we would be hard pressed to want to call the game a Final Fantasy. The game would just be just another RPG and wouldn't really fit in the Final Fantasy series. My understanding from what I've heard is that the original version of Final Fantasy XIV lacked so many iconic Mantle elements that it was one of the reasons it did poorly. I didn't play that game so I can't say for sure.

    Lastly the Crust is those elements that can and do change in every game and aren't necessary for the series to retain its identity. They kind of fill out the game. For example the Sphere Grid is a crust element. It in no way signifies Final Fantasy and if no other Final Fantasy ever again has a "Sphere Grid" it wouldn't matter. Everything in the Crust in one game can be completely different from the Crust of another game in the same series. But the Crust sits on top of the Mantle and Core and needs them to support it. In that ay crust elements should be related to other aspects of the series but could be represented in a different way. For example, Character Ability Progression being a core RPG element is part of the Core. Ability Trees in some form or another as a way to represent character ability progression is common enough to be considered Mantle. And a particular instantiation of ability trees, namely the sphere grid is a Crust element. But you could find a much better way to do it in the next game or just not want to use sphere grids again just because they are kind of iconic to final fantasy X so you come up with some other instantiation in the next game.

    Lately a LOT of games series might be what we would call Large Core Game Series (LCGS). LCGS's have a lot of elements that are consistent throughout every game in the series. In effect nearly every game is the same in a lot of really fundamental ways. Something like Assassin's Creed I would consider a LCGS. The Mantel and Crust elements of those games are small. The Core is huge. When you play a new Assassin's Creed you expect almost everything that you've come to know and love from prior games to be there and for there just to be some experimentation on the edges. And that's a perfectly fine way to design a series.

    Final Fantasy though I would consider to be a Small Core Game Series (SCGS). Possibly one of the smallest core game series out there. There are very few elements that have to exist in a game for it to be considered a Final Fantasy. But instead it has a large and varied Mantle which supports an even more varied Crust.

    The result of that is that there are lot of elements that a lot of people consider part of the Core that are in fact part of the Mantle. That in turn tends to make a lot of players angry and unhappy when a new game comes along but it's lacking a particular thing that they thought was iconic to the series or that they just loved so much from the last game they played.

    I made this mistake myself back when Final Fantasy 11 came out. I believed deeply at the time that if anything at all was Core to Final Fantasy it was that it was a Single Player RPG. I thought that was one of the defining characteristcs that made a main series Final Fantasy game a Final Fantasy game. So when Final Fantasy 11 came out I rebelled. I hated it and thought it was incredibly stupid for them to make Final Fantasy 11 an MMORPG. Why not call it "Final Fantasy Online" or something and leave my main series alone. But what I've come to realize is that in Square Enix's mind "Single Player RPG" is not and never has been core to Final Fantasy. Just "RPG" is. The "Single Player" part is just part of the Mantle. You can have a Final Fantasy that is Single Player and you can have one that is an MMO. And there's wisdom to doing this too. It's not just an arbitrary decision. In theory in the future we don't know where RPGs are going to go. At the time when 11 came out for all Square knew it was possible MMO's were going to completely take over the gaming market and single player RPGs might be a thing of the past in 10 years. It didn't turn out that way but it easily COULD have. Had they stuck with my opinion and only made single player games Final Fantasies then in the future they would have lost their flagship brand. Likewise in the future some wholly knew way of playing RPGs could develop in the future that we can't predict. Say maybe two-player team co-op multiplayer or something. Maybe that's the next big thing. Having put the number of players in the Mantle, Square Enix gained the flexibility to adapt the series to whatever future trends could happen to exist that the developers can't hope to predict.

    And that's actually the beauty of the SCGS design itself. What you lose in consistency and increased risk of alienating core fandom you gain back in extraordinary flexibility. Much like modular design in programming, a Mantle and Crust centric approach to series isolates those characteristics that could be broken from the core functionality of the series so they can be debugged, changed, or eradicated separately as needed. People aren't into Science Fiction any more? Final Fantasy can just stop making games with Science Fiction elements and few would be upset. Or alternatively if people just become really into hard core Science Fiction? Well Square can just make all future games have a hard core Science Fiction component until opinions change again.

    The very fact that people can and do talk a lot about how to "fix" Final Fantasy is directly related to their series design. A series that had just become obsolete because it was old and all the core elements weren't interesting to people anymore wouldn't garner this much attention. People who liked those old elements would just keep playing until they were the very last players and everyone else would just nostalgically remember the series but have moved on to other more interesting games. There might be some talk about whether the company was going to start a new series but people would just assume that Final Fantasy couldn't be saved or would have to be fundamentally changed into an entirely different thing just sharing the name because what it was is just past its time. Since Final Fantasy is a SCGS and has changed so fundamentally over time though we can imagine easily it adapting to the modern era and still preserving enough of the key Final Fantasy elements that it would still recognizably be a Final Fantasy to us. And I think that's great.

    The other advantage an SCGS has is that it preserves player hope for longer. Even if you absolutely utterly despise Final Fantasy XV for example, you will likely remember that not ALL final fantasies are like XV and that Final Fantasy XVI is likely to be very very different and may well recapture the elements of the series you loved. It may NOT of course, but having that inkling of hope in you makes you much more likely to give the next game a try. And the next and the next. Well maybe that's a disadvantage depending on how you look at it.

    Note I'm not saying Final Fantasy hasn't had problems. It clearly has, but the fact that it changes radically from game to game isn't automatically a flaw, it's a clear design philosophy with pros and cons. And I personally hope they don't change that aspect of the series at all since it's one of the few series out there doing it this way.
  • VictarVictar Member Full Members
    edited November 2014
    My submitted question: how do you fit time for all these RPGs into your busy schedules? Especially since some of them (SMT series, Disgaea) are incredibly long, and some of you play never-ending timesink MMOs, such as FF14 and World of Warcraft. I know Phil plays handheld games while exercising at his gym, but what about the rest of you?

    As for Final Fantasy... the FF that I daresay was objectively broken was FF XI. I spent way too much mony on this game and a PS2 hard drive(?) back in the day, only to discover the most counter-intuitive, user-unfriendly menu system outside of certain archaic CRPGs.

    A mess of insane menus + real-time combat = the FF XI player had to make macros for EVERYTHING. This is not even getting into the intolerably tedious required grinding or other game balance issues. If I were to use a magical time machine to fix FF XI, I'd remake the user interface from scratch.

    And yet, FF XI has been long-lasting and relatively successful, while a certain other PS2 MMO with a much more user-friendly UI (Everquest Online Adventures) scraped by for a while before quietly dying. I attribute this to the power of the FF brand name, and unless FF sales start to tank I'm not sure the developers will necessarily think that anything about it is "broken".
  • NyxNyx Staff Girly Girl RPGamer Staff
    edited November 2014
    Oooo coyotecraft and Victar, I like these questions and they will for sure be answered on our next episode! Everyone, please keep the questions coming! :)
  • TheAnimeManTheAnimeMan Member Full Members
    edited November 2014
    For those who play MMO's, like Phil, he and I have had some good conversations about Immersion into the MMO landscape. But how do you all feel about the immersive qualities into MMO's, when would you feel it's to much, what sort of concepts to possible immerse a player into an MMO environment do you like or don't like.
    sig.gif

    28 years of gaming and still going strong
    and now a mostly annoyed Father with first son. And now a father again to a second son :D

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  • JCServantJCServant Certified Polygameist RPGamer Staff
    edited December 2014
    To Mac's point about Final Fantasies not really being cohesive enough to be considered a traditional series. I agree with a poster above. While we see more variation in most FF games than, let's say, series like Dragon Quests, that variation didn't really jump genres or the such until much later in the numbers. Sure, FF2 had different mechanics than FF1, but it was still a party based RPG. FF4 made the move to active combat, but it was still a party based RPG. I could go on and on...but while just about every game tinkered and changed some combat mechanics, setting details, etc., they were all, essentially, party based RPGs using a turn based (or active time) combat system. For me, FF11 was the first, major, jump the shark moment, as it moved to a completely different subgenre: MMO. FF13 felt like a huge push to me, as well, as it nearly stripped away all individual party member control in favor of a party strategy direction. FF15 looks like a Devil May Cry rip off to me...and and this point, I'm no longer pre ordering Final Fantasy games like I did in the past. Because, in the past, I knew I was getting an RPG with some original mechanics. Now? It can be an MMO, action game, etc. Silly!

    Sam... you make some great points about not really being WOW'd with the series. You know, FF6 really engulfed me into the experience. Every since then, I've desired another FF experience on that level. And, like you, I've enjoyed elements of FF's after FF6, none of them have drawn me in on that level. I enjoyed the combat in some, the graphics or stories in others...but none of them hit all of the notes FF6 did.

    Mac: I agree with having a Backlog of fun games in preparation for the of the eventual Freemium apocalypse. :)

    My thoughts...as to how to 'fix' FF. Change within a series is good, but so is focus. Rather than going from one extreme (every game practically being a different sub genre and reinventing the wheel) to another (very little change like Dragon Quest series), I would like to see some balance. Change the weaker elements in the last game, tweak the elements that worked well, and build off of previous successes rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water every game.

    Speaking of, why don't we have a proper sequel to Final Fantasy Tactics? Seriously! Tweak the combat/class system, write up a new story that carries things forward (or do a prequel) and watch the money (and love) come in! How hard is that?
  • MacstormMacstorm Ysy St. Administrators
    edited December 2014
    My point on FF isn't that the series isn't cohesive enough to be a traditional series, but that it's not a continuous series and that each game brings something new to the table. I never said that every game is 100% different with no carryover, but that FF1 is very different from FFII. And that FFVI is very different from FFVII. Sure they have shared traits and such, but that's not what I'm saying.

    The Halo series of games are all FPS. Sure there are tweaks and improvements from game to game, but it's clearly a series with a progressive line. Assassin's Creed games each follow a similar formula. The Final Fantasy "series" (1 to 15) are all RPGs, but that's about it. You can draw comparisons between FF, FFIII, and FFV and you can see similarities between FFIV, FFVI, and FFIX, but when you move from FF1 to FFXV you find a different experience each time.
    "The universe is already mad. Anything else would be redundant."
    Twitter @FinalMacstorm
  • JCServantJCServant Certified Polygameist RPGamer Staff
    edited December 2014
    Macstorm wrote: »
    The Final Fantasy "series" (1 to 15) are all RPGs, but that's about it. You can draw comparisons between FF, FFIII, and FFV and you can see similarities between FFIV, FFVI, and FFIX, but when you move from FF1 to FFXV you find a different experience each time.
    Yeah...but generally (at least for the first dozen games sans XI), not genre defining differences. I dunno. I mean, I bought each of these games as they came out here in the USA. We can split hairs and have various opinions...but to me, the games felt like epic, traditional RPGs through FFX. Sure, there were changes, but they felt more like evolutions of the genre, not mind blowing genre-changin' variances.

    Then FF11... a few blown MMO, completely alienated me... as I had no desire to move from a high quality, 50 hour single player experience to a 1,000 hour MMO grind fest. Putting that one aside for a moment, FF12 and 13 really pushed me, both in terms of gameplay and story, further from what I expected from the series. They just didn't feel like the epic RPG experiences that brought be back to the series over and over again in the past. If the stories drew me in like FF6's or 9's, then I'd probably find it a lot easier to get over the push for even more actiony battle systems. But, alas, they come up short...with characters that I find myself lacking any desire to bond with.
  • MacstormMacstorm Ysy St. Administrators
    edited December 2014
    I think you're confusing my point about how the series isn't a typical series with how the series has moved away from being the kind of game you want to play.
    "The universe is already mad. Anything else would be redundant."
    Twitter @FinalMacstorm
  • JCServantJCServant Certified Polygameist RPGamer Staff
    edited December 2014
    Hmmm...beats me. I was just responding based on what I heard you say on the podcast :)

    I'm not going to disagree that it's an atypical series.... but as far as moving away from the kind of game I want to play? I I'm not ready to say it's completely there, just yet. Certainly, XI qualified for that distinction, as it was in a subgenre that I purposely limit my exposure to. And, as a series, its definitely moved away from being a series I knew. In the past, I wanted to play ever iteration (to the point that I would automatically pre-order the games). Now, I'm much more cautious, reading reviews and/or buying the games on discount. I am displeased about the direction the series seems to be headed, and quite vocal about such, but I stop short of saying that it's definitely not the type of game I want to play. I would also like to add that it's not only the direction that the series has been going that turns me off, but the declining quality of the story and characters, as well.

    Oh!! That brings up a good Q&A! When does a series stop being a series? Just because it has the same name with an ascending number tacked on the end...does that really a series make?
  • DravDrav A Serious Man Full Members
    edited December 2014
    I meant to comment on this weeks ago and then completely forgot, and now only half-remember what was said. I think Macstorm brought up a point that's still relatively overlooked: the radical differences in game design (as opposed to story) between series installments is only something that started happening with the PS2 era. Mechanically speaking, FF IV-IX are closer to each other than what is generally accepted. The battle systems – the ATB system – is almost identical in all six games. What changes between the installments is the ability systems, and really if you rid your mind of the terminology used between each game ("Materia System", "Job System"), what you basically have is a series that is constantly trying to find a balance in how much customization it will allow the characters, from FFIV (virtually no customization) to FFVIII (customization of practically everything). Beyond that... FFVIII also changed the magic system, which did make that game feel significantly different (worse) than the rest, but even then I don't think that game plays radically differently to any of the others, beyond the horrendous down-time you spend accumulating magic.

    What's surprising about this is that despite the fact that all the SNES/PS1 games are basically the same game being continually fine-tuned, every single one of the games is poorly balanced to one extent or another (besides possibly FFIV/V... which is a bit of an indictment of the designers that came after them really), so I'm not sure we actually lost much when Square abandoned this kind of design during the PS2 era and just made every game different. But now that dev costs are so much higher, I wouldn't be surprised if FFXV, XVI, and XVII go back to being fairly similar though, especially if FFXV turns out to be a hit. Honestly I'm not sure that the actual game design even matters that much; the biggest problem people seem to have with the more recent games is that Square Enix creats worlds they don't want to play around in, and characters they don't want to control. Fixing that is no doubt way more important than any mechanical issues. I mean, the Batman: Arkham games are some of the most popular of the last generation despite the fact that they're mechanically kind of terrible, because people just love that universe so much. I'm not sure Square Enix has anyone left of staff that's actually capable of writing a good story anymore though...

    As for Q&A... presume for a moment that JRPGs did manage to thrive on the last generation of consoles, instead of (mostly) being relegated to handhelds. Would the genre have actually been better off? Most hardcore WRPGs fans seems to be getting a lot more out of Wasteland 2, Divinity: Original Sin etc. than their recent AAA equivalents.
  • NyxNyx Staff Girly Girl RPGamer Staff
    edited December 2014
    Hey guys! Last chance to get your questions in (remember, any questions welcome) as we are recording early next week. :D
  • GaijinMonogatariGaijinMonogatari RPGamer Staff RPGamer Staff
    edited December 2014
    What do you think Square Enix could learn from other developers who have more cohesive structure to their series' formats?
  • MacstormMacstorm Ysy St. Administrators
    edited December 2014
    Nyx wrote: »
    Hey guys! Last chance to get your questions in (remember, any questions welcome) as we are recording early next week. :D
    Are you compiling these questions for us, Sam?
    "The universe is already mad. Anything else would be redundant."
    Twitter @FinalMacstorm
  • NyxNyx Staff Girly Girl RPGamer Staff
    edited December 2014
    Macstorm wrote: »
    Are you compiling these questions for us, Sam?

    Yeppers! :D
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