Anyone who’s a regular reader of my blog knows that I’m a little bit of a Final Fantasy fanboy (in regards to the pre-PS3 era; while I enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII, it just didn’t have the same magic for me that the earlier games did; I attribute this to the fact that I’m getting older and no longer find insane distinctly Japanese takes on fantasy tropes to be so appealing). I mean, I did do a 30 part retrospective playthrough of Final Fantasy VII for the past few months just because I thought it would be fun (it was).
So, about a month ago, just before NaNoWriMo got underway and I was still in that happy place where I thought I’d be able to maintain a daily update schedule on my blog while simultaneously hammering out fifty thousand words on a new novel, I read this article about the fact that Square Enix (the developer who owns the Final Fantasy franchise) has access to a number of major western developers since they bought Eidos a couple years ago (Eidos is a major western publisher who’s responsible for such series as Tomb Raider, Hitman, and Deus Ex), and how that means that there’s a strong possibility that Square Enix will sometime soon ask a western developer in their stable to produce a game with the Final Fantasy brand.
The comments on that article are all over the place regarding this possibility (granted, it’s Kotaku so the opinions tend towards the extreme “yes, do that, awesome!” or “no, anathema, I will never forgive SE!” ends of the spectrum). There was some discussion about the fact that Final Fantasy is a series that’s always been developed with an aesthetic grounded in a Japanese approach to European fantasy tropes. It’s not a bad point, and for the earlier entries in the series, I’d say that’s totally true. Probably starting with Final Fantasy X, I think the aesthetic started shifting away from “Japanese take on European fantasy” towards straight up “Japanese fantasy.” The aesthetic for the series has gotten more and more esoterically Japanese since Tetsuya Nomura took over as the artistic lead for the franchise (entries where his involvement was minimal, like Final Fantasy IX, XI, and XII revert more to the traditional European, or in XII‘s case Middle Eastern, aesthetic). He seems to be fascinated by Japan’s host subculture and includes design elements like absurdly styled hair and flashy clothes that are commonly worn by workers in host clubs. It’s not my favorite aesthetic, but it’s not unattractive, and I generally have a lot of fun laughing at the visual absurdity.
All of that discussion is a tangent, because that’s dealing with the series’ aesthetics, which are very much influenced by who the artistic lead is in any given production. From a mechanics perspective, Final Fantasy is a series that’s about innovation. Every iteration in the series was trying to do something really new and interesting with its gameplay while staying within the classic tabletop RPG formula (remember that the first video game RPGs were all simply adapting tabletop mechanics in a way that would translate well on a video screen). As the series has progressed, the innovations have gotten farther from that original template, and with the upcoming Final Fantasy XV, the series is finally making a jump from turn based to action RPG. That’s a big deal because it’s a shift in genre, but it’s not antithetical to the spirit of the series, which has always been an attempt at expressing in the medium of video games Ezra Pound’s maxim on modern poetry: “Make it new.” The fact that the series has retained the name Final Fantasy stems not just from the fact that Square would have been bankrupted if the original game hadn’t been a huge success, but also that each sequel is supposed to be a unique experience.
So when people talk about the possibility of the series being handed over to a western developer, I just shrug and think, “I’d like to see what would come of that.” It’s true that there are conventions in WRPGs that I’m not fond of (perhaps most prominent of which is the tendency towards tedious stat modifications; if I get a new piece of equipment, I want to be able to tell at a glance if it’s an improvement on what my character is currently wearing rather than just a minor tradeoff of one stat for another), and a game that simply overlays the motifs common to Final Fantasy on a game structured like Dragon Age (which was a fine game in its own right, but really did nothing spectacularly interesting with its game mechanics) would probably be a bit of a disappointment.
The point I’m trying to make is that Final Fantasy is about innovation, and a shift towards a developer with western sensibilities has a lot of potential for innovation. It’d be fascinating to see what a non-Japanese developer would do with a property that’s done a lot to define itself as a distinctly Japanese thing.
What do you guys think? Does the possibility of a western developed Final Fantasy (or any other property that’s considered innately Japanese) sound interesting, or would it just be a bad idea? Let me know down below.