| Tags: Features
| Author Timo Reinecke
FF16 Needs To Be A Success For Square Enix
With Final Fantasy 16 (FF16) looking as good as it does, we should get into why this title is so important for Square Enix and why it has to be something special.
The release of a new Final Fantasy used an event that shook the gaming world. Sure that was 20 to 30 years ago, but in that glorious era of early 3D titles Final Fantasy stood for something. Innovation, pushing the boundaries of what was possible.
This sounds very grand when said, but games like Final Fantasy 7 and Final Fantasy 10 are both considered to be milestones in console gaming and the RPG genre. You only need to look at the long shadow Final Fantasy 7 casts to this day over both Square Enix and Japanese RPGs.
But after Final Fantasy 10, it felt as if the series had fallen off. And after a long, long time, Final Fantasy might return to mainstream success after 20 years of hibernation.
We're gonna talk about what made the early Final Fantasy titles special, the lasting impact they had on the medium, where it all went wrong, and why Final Fantasy 16 might set the series up for another golden age.
The Golden Age
Once upon a time (the mid-1990s) there was a company called Squaresoft that had carved out a niche for itself by making really good console roleplaying games. But there was a problem, especially in the West the RPG was a genre largely contained to computers.
So at the dawn of 3D games on consoles and with the rise of the PlayStation One, Squaresoft hatched a plan: make the biggest, best RPG possible, bloat up the marketing budget, and pray that it works.
That game was Final Fantasy 7. A game we can't even start to describe without throwing buzzwords like “iconic”, “groundbreaking,” and “revolutionary”. There were many reasons for that, the rise of anime being adapted in the West and the fact that barely anyone had played something like it.
FF7 was a trailblazer in many a way, it was this odd mix media project made by developers who still hadn't found out how to make and pace a game with the jump to 3D.
And while indicative of many games from that time, none had so many iconic motifs, visuals, and scenes that penetrated pop culture as Final Fantasy 7. The games that followed were not just copycats of that success either.
Compare the three Final Fantasy titles on PlayStation One (7,8, and 9) to the PSOne Resident Evil trilogy. Then still, Squaresoft didn't just iterate on their previous successes, they innovated.
This was largely owed to the franchise's design ethos established by its creator Hironobu Sakaguchi because Final Fantasy is less a series or franchise of video games and more a prompt that challenges its makers to make a new game from the ground up.
The moment when Final Fantasy then spearheaded another generation was the release of Final Fantasy 10. With its graphics alone, FF10 showed what a still-young PlayStation 2 was capable of. But it was its story and presentation that set a new benchmark.
After making two benchmark titles in two different era's where do you go from there? Obviously, try for a third time, but even before the PlayStation 2 ran out of steam, Squaresoft, now Square Enix, had been on a slow decline.
They were still making games and they were still making money, but there was a shift in the company that led to a 15-year-long odyssey. The main catalyst was the departure of Final Fantasy creator Sakaguchi and the following resignation of many senior staff members.
This event threw the development of Final Fantasy 12 out of balance and started a change in attitude concerning the Final Fantasy brand. Suddenly FF wasn't trailblazing anymore, it was chasing trends and the ever-so-elusive Western audience who was getting introduced to Halo and Call of Duty around that time.
The Xbox 360/ PlayStation 3 where rough for most Japanese developers, but for Square Enix, it was especially bad. They went from being innovators to the studio that made those good Final Fantasy titles once.
It also didn't help that Square Enix in the West was only known as the Final Fantasy studio and barely any of their other franchises caught on in the same way Final Fantasy did.
To say that they just made bad games is also screwing the narrative. If anything led to the decline of Final Fantasy as a brand, it was probably the chase of a broader audience, making games more expensive on HD consoles.
And we can not forget the bane of all of modern gaming, pretty graphics, and cashing in on nostalgia.
The release of Final Fantasy 15 in 2016 marked the end of a lengthy development cycle. A game that is fine, but was chopped into pieces and turned into this weird, incoherent multimedia project. And that was kind of it for Final Fantasy.
A Hero Emerges
Despite news of NFTs being shimmied into their IPs, Square Enix has been in a bit of an upswing lately. Which hilariously started with the doom of another project.
Final Fantasy 14 was Square Enix's second attempt at an MMORPG. While Final Fantasy 11 didn't make much of a splash here in the West, it managed to be very successful in Asia and especially Japan to this day.
So making another MMO was a forgone conclusion; better graphics, and coasting off the success of the previous one and everything will be fine, right? FF14's initial development and release was a complete disaster for everyone involved.
Again, many factors played into that, and let it be known that making games, especially MMOs is hard.
The Fall and Rise of Final Fantasy 14 is now the stuff of legends. Instead of making the game playable and putting it off as yet another failure, Square Enix decided in a rather ballsy move to fix the game and develop a new version alongside it to release at a later date.
The man at the center of all of this was Naoki Yoshida, who had previously overseen and produced Dragon Quest 10 and was primed to work on his own project.
Instead, he and his team of Square and Enix Allstars moved on to fix and remake Final Fantasy 14. And the results speak for themselves. FF14 celebrates its 10th year of operations since its relaunch in 2013 and every expansion since has set new sales records.
This was the turning point of Square Enix's little dark age. Since then, they announced and released the first part of the Final Fantasy 7 Remake project, Kingdom Hearts finally returned from its deep slumber and even Dragon Quest saw some mainstream success here in the West.
Which put Yoshida and his team in the position of making Final Fantasy 16. Only Final Fantasy 16 could just be very good, but will ultimately suffer the same fate as the last mainline entries and fade into obscurity. But it doesn't have to be that way.
FF16: Maybe it's time Final Fantasy does something crazy again.
The air around Final Fantasy 16's feels odd. As of writing, we're two months away and the air around the title feels like cautious optimism at best.
Everything they've shown so far looks incredible. FF16 looks like that killer app the PlayStation 5 is so desperately hurting for. But it's also a big colorful RPG with a grim tone set against a high fantasy world. Which is not exactly Sony's ballpark.
That the game is managed by the “MMO Guy” and the Square Enix “B-Team” is the source of discourse among old-school Final Fantasy fans. Apparently, this game looks like those Devil May Cry games and that is bad because of reasons.
With Final Fantasy XIV, the team at Square Enix's Creative Business Unit 3 has been consistently churning out some of the best content in all of gaming. And FF16 looks very much like the result of all the lessons learned packed in a tight, well-put-together package.
But so far, we haven't seen that special something of Final Fantasy 16 yet. That spark that shot FF7 and FF10 into the thing of legend. We haven't seen much of the story yet, nor what the core conflict of this supposed 40-hour epos with reportedly 11 hours worth of cutscenes will be like.
If you fear that Yoshida and his team are spilling the beans too much, though, let me tell you as a long-time FF14 player, that's just how they do things. It's the stuff they don't show you that'll knock you out of your socks.
As for Square Enix, FF16 needs to be more than just a success. It needs to be a lot more than just a return to form. If FF16 with a team that had the closest gaming has to a superhero origin story, can't capture lighting one more time. Then Final Fantasy might never be able to reclaim its throne.
Final Fantasy 16 releases on June 22, 2023, on PlayStation 5.