It’s no secret that the Final Fantasy brand has been reinventing itself, and that trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down with the upcoming Final Fantasy XV. After spending most of the decade in development, in less than two weeks the story of Noctis and company will finally be unleashed on the world for their judgment. I’ve written before about the pressure riding on this game, how it seems to be the make-or-break title for Final Fantasy’s legacy, at the very least in this new generation of consoles.
However, one of the (many) easy ways to piss off a group of gamers is to change something they liked. Jumping onto any news about FFXV will undoubtedly yield at least one comment assuming the entire game is going to be a trash heap simply because it is trying something new. While I disagree with these sentiments, it is true that FFXV (or any new FF game moving forward) could learn a thing or two by looking at its predecessors.
What specifically, you ask? Well….
[The first half of] X’s Customization
It has been confirmed that Final Fantasy XV is going to continue the genre trend of grid-based character growth, with a shared point pool to teach the four party members new abilities. On paper this is a very generic, by-the-numbers decision, but my hope is that it will capture the leveling system’s full potential in a way that even its most successful predecessor, Final Fantasy X, failed to do.
For those unfamiliar, FFX’s Sphere Grid allowed players to move a character along a branching track, picking up stat increases and new abilities as they went. This gave players some freedom in how they built out each character, especially considering that once a character’s personal track was completed, they could branch out to pick up the abilities of another character. Sending Tidus over to Yuna’s section of the grid made him something of an agile Paladin, while sending Yuna through Lulu’s made Lulu just as pointless in gameplay as she was in the story.
The problem with this is that the post-game quickly becomes a party full of identical powerhouses, just as some of the more customization-happy FF titles do. My hope for FFXV’s leveling system is that each of the party members will have their own distinct abilities that make each one indispensable, while also providing players with the ability to customize how they wish to build out each party member (for example, choosing whether Gladiolus will be more of an aggro-drawing knight or a monk that deals crushing damage).
IX’s Subtle Character Work
One of the biggest criticisms of Final Fantasy XIII was the straightforward (and at times hamfisted) nature of the game’s characterization. Snow reminded the audience he saw himself as a hero every other time he opened his mouth, and Hope’s fear and inexperience came in the form of whining and angst instead of honest characterization. This doesn’t set a good precedent going into FFXV (although the prequel anime Brotherhood does and you should totally check it out).
Hopefully, Noctis will be surrounded by supporting characters who are given the same care as those in Final Fantasy IX. The game mostly focused on being the story of Zidane and Garnet (and, arguably, Vivi), while populating the world with plenty of lovable characters and party members. The stories of the people around Zidane were compelling, but delivered in short bursts that engaged the audience without overstaying their welcome. Freya’s search for a figure from her past, Eiko’s loneliness, and even Quina’s quest for delicious food were all effective because of the subtle delivery, and I hope that we get similar treatment for characters like Luna, Cor Leonis, and Aranea Highwind.
XII’s Hunt System
A lot of people didn’t like Final Fantasy XII, but those people are wrong because that game was awesome. Despite its obvious shortcomings (most notably the less-than-stellar summon system, truncated third act, and Penelo), XII is a game that can suck you in for hours with its strategic battle system, ridiculous number of abilities, and wealth of side content. The bulk of this takes of the form of “Hunts”, where the party joins a hunting guild and travels the world completing bounties on monsters that are causing trouble.
Across two playthroughs I’ve poured dozens of hours into the feedback loop of hunting to get a higher rank, which gives me access to better gear, so I can tackle more powerful hunts. The RPG grind distilled to its purest form is a great way to kill time in between story points. The more advanced hunts of FFXII also provided some of the greatest challenges in the franchise, including high-HP boss fights that tested strategy, endurance, and adaptability in a way few RPGs do. These ideas applied to FFXV’s more active battle system could lead to some of the most thrilling battles in all of video games.
VII’s Secret Quests/Mini-Games
Final Fantasy games are filled to the brim with quests to unlock special items and abilities, but FFVII is where the franchise hit its sweet spot. The quests to obtain powerful weapons and spells in previous entries were rather by the numbers “go here, get that” affairs, while later franchises bogged the endeavor down in poorly thought out mini-games and fetch quests (the Celestial Weapons in FFX are particularly bad offenders, requiring ridiculous feats of patience and tedium).
FFVII held powerful tools such as the Knights of the Round materia and Omni-Slash Limit Break behind the Chocobo Racing/Breeding and Battle Arena mini-games, respectively. These games were fun, addictive, and for their time rather in-depth. FFVII was, in a way, the launch pad for in-depth mini-games in RPGs, and they have come a long way since then (just look at The Witcher III’s Gwent) so simple races and modified combat won’t do for today’s gamer. However, I’m confident Square can devise some new and interesting quests involving side games with the depth and content of Blitzball, but with the fun and addictiveness of literally anything other than Blitzball.
Good God, Please Just Let Ardyn Be The New Kefka
Against Kefka, every other Final Fantasy villain simply fails to measure up. Sephiroth is a momma’s boy who uses too much hair product. Kuja can’t accomplish anything without the help of the Queen of the Blue Meanies. Seymour is just literally the worst-written character ever.
The Mad Clown captured the attention of gamers in Final Fantasy VI and remains one of the highest regarded villains in all of video games, often topping lists alongside the likes of Ganondorf and Revolver Ocelot. While his twisted reflection of the protagonist and chaotic mental state make him interesting and entertaining as a character, a large part of his appeal is the fact that he lurks as a secondary villain for most of the game before taking power for himself. Kefka’s turn marks a dramatic tone shift for the game, something that gamers did not see coming when the game released and still remains one of the defining aspects of the game.
Some speculation has risen about Ardyn Izunia, who has appeared in some promo material and had a small but pivotal role in the animated movie Kingsglaive. While we know little about the villains in general, Ardyn seems to have the position, power, and twisted sort of charisma that would make him prime material to ascend to Big Bad (possibly triggering the time skip that gives us the Old Noctis art we’ve seen?). Clearly dividing the game into two parts around a villain’s ascension would be a great way for FFXV to call back to FFVI while putting its own spin on things, something that would greatly endear the game to veteran fans.
In order to succeed, Square needs to remind their oldest fans that it still cares about them. These are just some ways they could pull it off.
What part of previous FF games do you hope the newest installment will cannibalize? Let me know in the comments!