In the PlayStation era, my Final Fantasy wasn’t your Final Fantasy.
And your uncle’s Final Fantasy wasn’t your aunt’s Final Fantasy. Your cousin’s best friend’s hairdresser’s mum’s Final Fantasy wasn’t your boyfriend’s great grandfather’s gardener’s Final Fantasy, either.
And your dog’s Final Fantasy absolutely wasn’t your cat’s Final Fantasy.
Because Final Fantasy of old was a combined effort of player and creator partying-up to bring the latter’s blocky, text box-driven machinations to life.
But before you continue to the inevitable disappointment that will be this post, let’s be clear: your dog’s Final Fantasy and your cat’s Final Fantasy probably weren’t the same because your dog’s Final Fantasy featured a spiky-haired pup venturing to ensure the demise of an evil time-travelling feline called Ultimeowcia.
And your cat’s Final Fantasy was probably about its dastardly plot to destroy the world, humanity and all of creation.
Because, you know – cats.
So, back to it, then: part of me can’t help but feel there’s a correlation between the number of discernible digits on a character’s hand – which in the PlayStation era was none, by the way – and the gradual decline of narrative depth.
Back then, imagination mattered. I had to imagine the rage in Barrett’s voice, I had to imagine the perpetual indifference of Squall’s personal – my imagination became a component of the system I was playing.
But now, I don’t have to imagine the drool dangling from the Big Nasty’s toothpaste-free face mouth, I don’t have to imagine the continued perpetual indifference of the latest spikey-haired hero – I don’t have to imagine the fine, granular detail, now painted in millions of pixels upon millions of polygons. The pursuit of a filmic quality in our beloved interactive medium has empowered developers’ imaginations – and yet has totally slaughtered ours.
Once upon a time, Final Fantasy’s seminal heroes stood around to talk about times gone by within the wooden confines of a ye-olde hotel room and take their sweet Shinra-lovin’ time about it. Developers and characters alike had time to tell their tales.
But more importantly: we had the time to listen.
Now, time telling a story is time not spent playing. Now, telling a story is overwrought, overwritten and under-thought cut scenes featuring what we’ve spent the last 25 hours watching: action.
And as developers inevitably chase the bloated shadow of modern cinema, it seems this particular genre of role-playing game will suffer because it once produced games in which we spent as much time pressing a button to read to dialogue as we did to bash monsters’ heads in.
And after spending fifteen or so hours with Final Fantasy XV, it seems that Square knows this. The game’s ‘broadtrip’ premise seems as much about inter-party banter than it does almost anything else, and it’s all filled to the brim with dialogue you simply wouldn’t have time to hear any other way.
I suspect Mistwalker knew this, too. Lost Odyssey’s text-based tales of its protagonist’s storied past where an inventive way of bypassing the need for hours of spot-spinning inaction. Like XV’s broadtrip dialogue, they help make the story vertical, not horizontal – optional, not obliging.
Final Fantasy XIII wasn’t without this ailment, either. A game which often funneled Lightning and the gang down a very a literal line, a game in such a rush that key plot points where relegated to a text-based datalog. Like Final Fantasy XV, XIII’s cut scenes often failed to develop anything beyond the surface – largely because key content was marooned in the menu.
Even with its numerous development woes accounted for, Final Fantasy is seemingly in its awkward high-school years – a series that doesn’t know what story it wants to tell or quite how to tell it in the modern age. XIII and XV both felt distant, disjointed, inconsistent, all within a 30-year-old series whose sense of cool has yet to truly evolve past spikey hair dos and oversized swords.
But let’s thank Zod that your cat’s Final Fantasy isn’t the Final Fantasy. Because your cat’s Final Fantasy would be a joyless, Chocobo-free world.
Where every atom is banished to the eternal void of complete and utter darkness and all-consuming pain.
Because, you know — cats.