Thursday, 27 February 2014

Feature - What Makes Final Fantasy So Great?

The Fans Speak

Final Fantasy is a video game series which is now into its 27th year. It was the brain child of Hironobu Sakaguchi and is now owed by Square Enix (formally Squaresoft). It is hard to believe before the release of the first game, Squaresoft were a struggling company and the success of this title helped turn the company around. So, after this success, what happened next? Well Final Fantasy spawned into a multi-title series with the main title currently at XIV and many spin offs. It has sold over 100 million units, holds seven Guinness World Records in the Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition 2008 and has millions of fans. I myself was only introduced to the series about six years ago when I played Final Fantasy VII as my friend was shocked I had never played it. I had heard many things about this title before I played it, including the famous “Greatest Game of all Time”. I had a PSP at the time; PSOne games were supported, so I thought why not? No time like the present. After completing it, I could see why many people love this game, but I would not say it was the greatest of all time. Maybe when it first came out, you could claim this. It has a strong story, dramatic moments (you know which one I mean), interesting character development and a great battle system. But as much as I enjoyed this entry in the series, I find it hard to get drawn into the series as a whole. Apart from VII, I have only (fully) completed XIII. I have tried to play VIII, but could not get myself into the game. The only other I have tried is X, but “modern” gaming got in the way and has just been pushed farther and farther into my backlog. This will change in a month when I purchase the HD remake for my Vita and I can play it wherever I go. This personal issue of me not being able to find myself absorbed into the series got me thinking. Is there something I am missing? There are millions of fans of the series, there are so many releases or re-releases within that series and there must be something which keeps them loving this series. So I thought I would try a little social-experiment with this. Over various sites on the internet I asked Final Fantasy fans a set of questions.
Best/Worst game?
Best/Worst Character?
Best/Worst Summon?
High Point of Series?
Low Point of Series?
What one aspect of the series do you love the most?
Best Memory?
Worst Memory?
What is the longest time logged & what game was it?
These questions came to life after a lengthy discussion with my friend who is a huge fan of the Final Fantasy Series.

My aim is to find out what certain elements of the series keeps the fans coming back or is it just nostalgia keeping it together? Nostalgia is a powerful tool and is Square Enix using it to their advantage. Within each question I will share the most interesting answers and I will try to find a conclusion to it at the end. I hope you enjoying reading these responses as much as I did.

The Best Final Fantasy Game

This question causes the biggest divide within the Final Fantasy community. The divide seems to be at the point in which the series moved into the third dimension on the PS one. Obviously VII cropped up a few times, but there is a lot of praise for VI. I confronted my close friend about this and he can see why. It has a very strong story, characters you can relate too and a very good battle system. From what I have read, this is something which has been lost through time. But this I will get to later on. A few fans love the “newer” entries into the series – mainly X and XII. But knowing what is the favourite fantasy within the fans is not enough. There has to be a reason, so I added another question to try and find out more;

At what point in your life did you favourite title get released?

I only had a few answers to this question but a user named RR529 gave me the answer I was looking for;
“I know for a fact that nostalgia plays a large part in my love for my favorite (FFX, which was the first entry I played, at 12 or 13), I have no need to hide that. I remember reading an article on some RPG centric website, stating that JRPGs are kinda like the video game world's Young Adult Novels (you know, like Harry Potter & the like). They both generally center around the same underlying themes which generally resonate best with you when you're a teen, and thus you get a nostalgic connection with them (on a level you don't with other games/books) that cements the first two or three you experience as the pinnacle of their genre, because newer ones (and older ones) will never resonate with you as well as the first few.”
So, what is the best title? There is none, I know it sounds silly but it is really down to personal choice.

I also asked what game they would to be remade next, (just like X and X-2) and the answer tied nicely into their favourite title. But, the clear winner of that question was VII. It might happen.

Worst Final Fantasy Game 

Once again this is a mixed bag. I have had a few fans say the earlier ones, especially 2, were a chore to complete. But, putting that aside, the “winner” of this question is the 13th entry. I have played this one and I can sort of see why. For an RPG it is a very linear game and the characters are quite dull. Flaws aside, I personally thought the game had a strong story. It was slightly confusing sometimes and you can see where the writers tripped over their selves whilst telling the story, but it does manage to get the message across well by the end. For me a story sticks stronger than gameplay. It could have flawed gameplay, but if the story is strong it will pull me through. Best comment about how bad XIII is?
"Original Post : That reminds me, a friend let me borrow FFXIII. This'll be my first Final Fantasy

Reply : Your friend must secretly hate you."

The Best & Worst Character

Can You Name Them All?

This is a hard one for me to answer. There are several bad characters that come to mind right off the bat and that sounds like a slight against the series, but I really think the reason the bad characters stand out so much is because they stand in stark contrast to the plethora of good characters the series have put forth
There was no trend found in the responses so but I understand that the best character solely comes down to how much you can relate to them. This could be either from characteristics, scripting, just falling in love with them or just because they are mysterious. On the other hand, the worst character seems to be the complete opposite. Dull characters that do not progress the story in anyway what so ever and would not be missed if they were not present.

The Best & Worst Summon

From what I understand, the same summons can appear in different games. Saying that though, the choice of best summon usually goes hand in hand with the fans favourite entry in the series. But, I believe from the feedback I got, I was a vague with this question. How do you define the “best” summon? Is it usefulness, most used or just bad ass? From the answers I got back, it is a mixture of everything but Bahamut seems to be a favourite. Just look at him! I would not mess with him on a bad day!
"Most useful for me would go to Doomtrain from VIII, but it's not really my favorite. I feel like I'd pick my favorite for some really stupid reason like it being the cutest so let's just go with Yojimbo."

Not much to be said about the worst Summon but obviously it falls into the most useless ones. There was an interesting comment made about the summons in Final Fantasy V. The “Summon Job” is optional in the game, so you could make your way to the end without using a single one. This easily makes these summon the worst of all as they are not needed to beat the game. From the few I have played (not completed), I would find it very hard to beat them without the help of a Summon.

"For worst, dunno, maybe that one that turns enemies into items but never works."

What one aspect of the series do you love the most?

The fans have spoken and the thing that they love is ..

**Drumroll Please**

…the whole universe created within the Final Fantasy series. It is a well-crafted world full of many interesting races of characters and many tales, some yet to be told!

Best & Worst Memory

Each fan has their own favourite memory. It will either be a scene, a character or an event that takes place within the story. It could even be something amusing which happened whilst you were playing that said game. Whilst reading through the answers, I found one which was really touching. It is the sort of memory I have of other games from my early days of playing games;
"I think my best memories of the final fantasy series are with VIII and that's why I'm so fond of it. I remember staying home sick from school and playing it. I remember the race me and my sister had to beat it. I remember fighting over who could use the TV just so I could play it. I remember spending hours upon hours upon hours trying to find that gosh darn white SeeD ship. I just get this incredibly warm, familiar feeling when playing it."

If anyone, hand on heart, can tell me that you have never pulled a sick day just to complete a game, then you are lying to yourself. These are the memories video games should create.

And for the worst memory? This was either frustrating moments within the game or the dreaded losing of your save!

Longest Time Clocked

This question is just to find out how dedicated the fans are to the series and from what I have seen, no one puts less than 40hrs into a game!

"Probably XII. It's not my favorite, but when I was playing XII I was at a time in my life where I had all the time in the world and pretty much only 1 game to play -that being XII. I've logged about 800+ hours into the game all together as shameful as it is for me to admit that."

"over 100 something hours on FF 9 but I got everything!!!"

"80+ hours of FFVII, although I just let the game run sometimes."

"I'm pretty sure one of my save files on Final Fantasy VII is over 90 hours."

"60+ in FFV"

"around 150 hours on Final Fantasy XII. That game is humongous. It's also marvelous and needs a HD remaster."

"50 hours into Final Fantasy VII"

High & Low Point of the Series

I asked this question to see if the series is still as good as it always has been and if not, what point did it drop? The answer I got were spot on what I was after. For this question, I have gathered all the best responses as they themselves tell the story of the fans;

"High point of the series: 1997, also not coincidentally one of the highest points of gaming in general.
Low point of the series: December 17, 2009 - Present"

"High Point of the Series: SNES/PS1 Era
Low Point: Since FF13"

"High Point of Series - the SNES.
Low Point of Series – Now"

"High Point of Series: The 90s. Don't wanna be too nostalgia obsessed but...this is so true.
Low Point of Series: 2010."

"The cutscene heavy modern ones just make me switch off completely."
From these few responses it seems that the SNES and PS one era seem to be when the series hit its peak and slowly declines to the present day (XIII).

After gathering all this information from the fans of the series it is very easy to see why they love it and get absorbed into the world. It is rich, vibrant series which drives player’s emotions and takes them to places they can only dream off. It reminds them of days gone by. They bring back memories, good or sad. It comes down to one word; nostalgia. It seems that the fans favourite game is connected to an event in their life and it will always remind them of that. So even if a newer entry in the series comes along and it is critically acclaimed, it will never be as important as the “one game”. Nostalgia is this series’ greatest ally and it’s even greater enemy.

In all the responses I received, I believe this one below sums up the entire series and what it means to the fans;

"I think the final fantasy series has always been really good with pushing the envelope by reinventing itself every game. There are always series staples, of course, but for the most part every game is different and offers a different experience and I think that's why final fantasy fans are so passionate about their favorite/least favorite games. It's also been good with creating an engaging storyline and has been a front runner for graphics in the RPG genre."
And for giggles, I share with you the best response I got;
"I don't love Final Fantasy. (Even though I love VI and IV). I do love Dragon Quest though."

[Sources: One, Two]

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