February 6th, 2012

Ghaleon

The Final Fantasy Curse.

Wow, gamers sure are difficult to please.

I just finished playing Final fantasy XIII-2, and I have to say it's a very impressive game. To listen to the reviews and the general comments going around, you'd think this were terrible. If you cut through all the ridiculous hyperbole, though, this is just another case of the Final Fantasy curse. What is the Final Fantasy curse? It's the overblown expectations which stems from one particular game in the series that has been romanticized to cartoonish extremes. That game is, of course, Final Fantasy VII.

Once upon a time Square released the seventh installment in the Final Fantasy series, which received critical acclaim and to this day is considered one of the best games ever made. The game had groundbreaking production values for its time, and it got by mainly on that. When you looked past all the pretty visuals and cinematics you were left with a pretty cut-and-paste RPG that didn't break any new ground at all. In terms of gameplay and story, Final Fantasy VII was average at best, but its visuals and cinematic flare were unprecedented in the genre for its time. In terms of gameplay there have been better, more inventive games before Final Fantasy VII and after it, some of which were even previous and subsequent entries in the Final Fantasy series.

Final Fantasy VII managed to cement itself into the hall of gaming classics not by being a good game, but for introducing a new level of technical mastery that hadn't been done quite so well before. Final Fantasy VII was, for many people, their first RPG, and even RPG veterans of the time were wowed by all the pretty. A result is that modern gamers tend to look back on Final Fantasy VII through nostalgia goggles which renders them blind to the more average qualities of the game. This has eventually led to a lionization of the game, with praise heaped upon every aspect of the title, even in areas where the praise is entirely undeserved.

Final Fantasy VII is more myth than game now. There are effectively two versions of that game: the version people remember and the version that actually exists. The former is a thing that has been risen to almost divine levels of praise and is considered exempt from criticism (for example, the mere fact that I called the game average is sure to piss people off), and the latter is, well ... an average game that is more style than substance. This is not to discredit the impact Final Fantasy VII has had on the gaming world. It was a technical marvel for its time, it introduced a lot of new blood into the RPG genre, and the industry is better off overall for its existence. What I am saying is that, where Final Fantasy VII is concerned, gamers tend to throw objectivity out the window after beating it to death with a seven foot buster sword.

The end result of all this is that Square's newer Final Fantasy games are compared to the lionized version of Final Fantasy VII and not the actual version of the game that exists, which is an impossible standard. Square would have to release a game that is ten times better than the real Final Fantasy VII for it to be considered even a fraction as good as the mythical version that it's being compared to.

Final fantasy XIII-2 is better than Final Fantasy VII, and many of the faults people levy at XIII-2 apply even more so to VII.

One of the larger complaints about XIII-2 is its story, which has received many a cry of "convoluted!" You want to talk about convolution, try explaining the plot of Final Fantasy VII. Hell, just try explaining Sephiroth in a way that makes sense. Lordkat pointed this out in one of his videos. Compared to VII, the plot of XIII-2 is downright simple.

What I find most baffling is how people tend to ignore something very important that has happened. When Square-Enix released Final Fantasy XIII it was greatly criticized (and rightly so) for its linearity and several issues with the gameplay. In response, Square actually LISTENED to their fans and released a follow-up which specifically addresses the issues that were raised. The fans spoke and Square listened. The response to this has been a collective "meh" from gamers everywhere. Not only that, but some of the reviews I've read have actually painted Square's acceptance of fan feedback as some kind of desperate act, painting XIII-2 as a sad apology for XIII. Holy shit, are we a bunch of assholes.

So now we have gamers leaving comments declaring "Final Fantasy is dead" and longing for a return of Final Fantasy VII. The funny part is, Square's latest entry into the series is more Final Fantasy VII than Final Fantasy VII, and surpasses that game in several ways. I find Caius Ballad to be a stronger, more compelling villain than Sepheroth ever was. At least I can understand what the hell Caius is.
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