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Editorial: Bringing the magic back to Final Fantasy

The next-gen Final Fantasy teaser from E3 got people talking, but it could hint at a much bigger (and much needed) series shift than just prettier visuals.

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It's safe to say that for many fans, the Final Fantasy series has lost something special. A crucial bit of its DNA is missing, and the magic of the series has faded away. I'm among the fans -- it once easily ranked among my favorite video game series. The possible future of the franchise has been detailed in a stunning bit of sample footage, and it gave stark contrast to one vital element the series has been missing in the last few years. Final Fantasy needs to, quite literally, bring back the magic.

When used properly in a story, "magic" is not something easily understood or explained. It should not be detailed in the textbooks children read in school. It should not be as commonplace in their world as a toaster oven or a mobile phone is in ours. Magic should be difficult, and rare, and amazing to behold. The characters should be awe-struck by it. That's what lets us, as the audience, know that it's special.

In Final Fantasy IV, magic was practiced by a precious few characters. When some characters did learn magic, or enhance latent magical abilities, it was a part of their story arc. In Final Fantasy VI, magic was a mysterious power that had been exploited by technology. Each character could use it, but only by understanding and internalizing a race of demi-gods.

As we entered the 3D era, though, the series' treatment of these elements began to change. The game took a sharp turn towards science-fiction, and the fantastical received more detailed explanations. In recent titles, magic receives the dreaded "midi-chlorian" treatment from the Star Wars prequels. The game painstakingly over-explains plot elements that are more fun when they're left with a hint of mystery. Final Fantasy games have entered the habit of blending science-fiction and spirituality, but the rationale is delivered so straight-faced we have no reason to doubt or question it. The mystery is gone.

That element, more than the technical prowess or visuals, is why the "next-gen" Final Fantasy teaser left me hopeful. Whether this sprung from the minds at Square or the partnership with Crystal Dynamics, who contributed art assets, I'm not sure. Either way, this looks to be along the right conceptual track.

In the "Agni's Philosophy" teaser, magic doesn't seem commonplace. It's practiced in dark hallways by creepy cultists. People are surprised and taken off-guard when the heroine reveals that she can perform magic -- and even more so when a dragon appears. The fantasy elements seem appropriately fantastical, and that is heartening.

Now, don't get me wrong. Contemporary Final Fantasy's problems are legion, and I hesitate to imply that merely making it more fantasy-focused will fix the issues entirely. But it will help. Square Enix was careful to note that the trailer isn't necessarily indicative of any particular project, so we may never see this culminate in anything at all. But it means that the company could be refocusing its direction, emphasizing the fantasy in Final Fantasy. Rhetorically speaking, Square Enix may just find that to bring back the magic, they simply need to bring back the magic.

Editor-In-Chief
From The Chatty
  • reply
    August 7, 2012 2:15 PM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Editorial: Bringing the magic back to Final Fantasy.

    The next-gen Final Fantasy teaser from E3 got people talking, but it could hint at a much bigger (and much needed) series shift than just prettier visuals.

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      August 7, 2012 2:27 PM

      The series lacks charm. It "grew up" and tried to take itself too seriously. The writers are unable to craft a mature storyline from beginning to end.

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        August 7, 2012 2:37 PM

        Pretty much how I feel about the series. Versus will be the last straw for me.

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        August 7, 2012 2:53 PM

        The problem seems to be that they don't know what they want. 7 was cartoonish with a serious story, 8 was serious with a serious story, 9 was cartoonish with a cartoonish story (don't know haven't played it), 10 was colorful/serious with a serious story, 12 was possibly too serious and story was much bigger than they could handle, 13 was all over the place storywise it seems (haven't played it).

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          August 7, 2012 3:00 PM

          13 broke the incredible combat mechanics from 12, FF tried to reinvent itself every iteration...that is the crux of the problem.

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            August 7, 2012 3:31 PM

            13 was the first FF game I liked because of the combat. The story was all over the place though. I hardly knew wtf was going on at any time, but I really liked the way that combat system worked.

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            August 7, 2012 10:59 PM

            Incredible combat mechanics? You programmed them and walked away. That was boring as hell. Incredible was the last thing I was thinking about when my party solo'd a boss battle while I cooked my dinner.

            And just to mention: I don't level grind, so I wasn't over-leveled for the area.

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          August 7, 2012 3:11 PM

          6 was just right.

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            August 7, 2012 10:40 PM

            What makes 6 so good is the story and the characters. All FF games are a little too grindy for my tastes and I've tried to enjoy them many times.

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          August 7, 2012 5:08 PM

          that was the point of the series. always changing

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          August 7, 2012 5:14 PM

          9 was a "return to the roots" type of thing where it paid homage to the early FF's.. 7 and 8 were a drastic shift from "the norm" at the time.

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            August 7, 2012 7:50 PM

            It's kinda weird that 9 sold the worst out of all modern era(PSX and up) FF main titles. So I guess people want the new direction.

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              August 7, 2012 7:55 PM

              I consider IX to be the last great FF. I think it sold worse bcs it didn't attract the crowd that may have liked (and started RPGs) with 7 and/or 8.

              I really wish they would go back to that style. Seems to suit them better.

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              August 7, 2012 10:04 PM

              Well, it came out a month after PS2 came out in NA I think. May have affected sales a bit. I remember wishing FF9 was on PS2 back when I got it.

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      August 7, 2012 3:02 PM

      Video seems broken?

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      August 7, 2012 3:05 PM

      All the trailer seems to show is a shift to Final Fantasy Modern Warfare.

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      August 7, 2012 3:16 PM

      [deleted]

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        August 7, 2012 10:15 PM

        After FF3 and 4's complete remake looked like shit, I'd prefer if the most they do is a 1+2 style hd-ize.

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      August 7, 2012 3:39 PM

      [deleted]

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      August 7, 2012 3:46 PM

      I think the increased fidelity since the SNES days highlights a cultural divide between the Western and Japanese audiences. Mannerisms, character designs, and other details were open to interpretation back in the 16-bit days, even if the designer's intent was always something to the level of FF10. We filled in the blanks in the limited animations and dialogue, and that made the characters our own.

      With the higher fidelity that room for interpretation is practically non-existent, and we're getting exactly what the designers are intending. Unfortunately I don't think it resonates with Western audiences (nor do I think they're very good in the first place).

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        August 7, 2012 4:32 PM

        I would concur with this

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        August 7, 2012 5:07 PM

        Good, succinct analysis.

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        August 8, 2012 8:20 PM

        Hmm... I hadn't thought about it that way... it's a good point and makes a lot of sense. The hardcore fans who were already into anime etc are still fine with the games because they are already familiar with those mannerisms etc... so it's not an issue with them.

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      August 7, 2012 3:52 PM

      Looked like a cutscene to me. They need a good story with good characters and good gameplay. A 4 minute cutscene doesn't suggest any of that.

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      August 7, 2012 10:25 PM

      Would it be safe to say they weren't expecting the reaction the..."trailer" got? That's the scary part. Didn't they ask people if they actually wanted sqeenix to make that into a game? It's like they're just winging it.

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