Spin-offs, online games and experimentation were introduced to Final Fantasy with varying degrees of success and acceptance. It’s natural for a business to try new things for a long-running series, lest it falls into a repetitive slump, though sadly, this franchise seems somewhat directionless for roughly a decade now.
Perhaps the main reason behind this apparent change stemmed from the fact series creator, Hironobu Sakaguchi and much of his team left shortly after the completition of Final Fantasy X. However, as I played Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, I made a distinct realization; every Final Fantasy since 13 should have been its own separate series.
Much of the original team is no longer part of Square-Enix. Final Fantasy 13 was directed by Motomu Toriyama and if Wikipedia is to be believed, his work for Square dates as far back as Bahamut Lagoon. However, his role was always one of story or event planning. It wasn’t until the fan-divisive Final Fantasy X-2 that he took on a directing role.
Indeed, this gives us a clear timeline. Final Fantasy X-2 marked an unprecedented management decision for the series; we could now expect sequels to story events. Up to that point, each installment had been its own self-contained world, plotline and narrative rule system, but now, we could learn what happened to our favorite characters after they had saved the world.
This is a jarring experience to say the least, as the drama-heavy dialog this series has accustomed its fanbase gives way in favor of a writing style that seems to have been pulled from the Charlie's Angels remake. Everything and everyone is happy-go-lucky, little detail is put into this world or its changes and the overall plot takes a backseat in favor of comic-relief and the occasional fan-service.
Despite these changes the gameplay was still decidedly Final Fantasy, and it featured one of the best combat and class systems the series has ever seen. Many considered the final product disappointing, but still, it was not without merit.
Jumping 10 years into the future, we see Motomu Toriyama reprise his role of Director for Final Fantasy 13. Back then, Square-Enix had already lost some of its fanbase but it was still considered the gold standard for JRPGs and Final Fantasy 13 seemed like the big one, it was flashy, lofty promises were made and a long development cycle ensured hype was at an all-time high… and then it happened. L’cies, Fal’cies, Pulse, Cocoon, Focus and many other shiny words and terms were thrown around with little time spent on actually explaining what they all meant. Towns were and locations were removed ensuring players had no time to digest all the information as they were forced to go from plot-point to plot-point.
Even the combat was drastically altered, sacrificing the series’ turn-based combat in favor of a real-time affair (though in fairness, Final Fantasy 12 dipped its toes in these waters first).
It seems like apart from a few names there was nothing here that seemed related to a Final Fantasy title, story or gameplay-wise. This was perhaps Square-Enix’s failing, had Final Fantasy 13 been given its own original name and series, no one would bat an eye. It would be seen as its own stand-alone series and it would have been judged by it. Instead, a game that is “okay” was considered one of the worst games of its year by gamers.
As if to add fuel to the fire, two direct sequels were developed, both of which further explored the lore, characters and world of Final Fantasy 13. Never before have so many efforts been made to flesh out the story of main Final Fantasy game. Even Final Fantasy 7’s spin-offs seemed to have been developed on smaller budgets and by back-up teams rather than being given AAA budgets and Square-Enix’s main internal team.
Luckily, Final Fantasy Type-0 does settle down and gives players the opportunity to explore the world at a leisurely pace, but the dialog and narrative elements introduced make one thing clear; this game is set in the same world as the Final Fantasy 13 series.
Suddenly, there’s a stronger connection between entries, players are required to know what a l’cie is, and the narrative rules by which they abide remain consistent between installments. The l’cie exist here and like their Final Fantasy 13 counterparts, they too have a focus to complete and will turn to crystal once they do. So with that in mind, we can continue the timeline.
Reading this one would assume the Final Fantasy formula as we know it came to an end, and in many ways it did, but this isn’t the first time this series underwent a similar transformation. During the NES and SNES days, the plot in every Final Fantasy game centered around crystals which protected the world until they were destroyed in Final Fantasy V. Starting with the sixth entry, the crystals stopped being a focus and thematically, the games shifted more and more from a fantasy to setting to steampunk, futuristic and modern ones. With this in mind, we can craft a full Final Fantasy timeline and how each game connects.
With this said, the issue that should be discussed here is not whether recent Final Fantasy entries are good or not, but rather it’s the expectations players have with them. The games we’ve gotten recently should have been their own distinct series, instead Square-Enix ensured the series would continue, but that the product delivered had its own distinct feel.
Finally, the franchise found new life with the Crystallis saga. Perhaps, it would have been better off to view every Final Fantasy game between 13 and Type-0 HD as its own interconnected saga, the Crystallis saga, and separate from its older Final Fantasy brethren. Of course, the question now remains whether the Crystallis saga will continue, if Final Fantasy returns to its roots or if it will evolve into a new, entirely separate affair.