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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Prediction: Final Fantasy 17 will be Online

Twan Peers into the Future
and sees...
So yeah, I'm totally invoking my pen name here--that way if I'm flat wrong about this, don't blame me, blame Twan >_>

Will there be an FFXVII? 

Of course there will be! It may be a bit early to start speculating on what exactly that game will amount to, but the ninjas at Square Enix have given us over 20 years of games with which to analyze for clues and patterns. And I sincerely believe that FFXVII will be their next big online Final Fantasy. Now I know what you're saying to yourself right now: "But Twan, they haven't even released FFXV and FFXVI yet, so how do you know anything about FFXVII?"

Allow me to break it down for you.

The Final Fantasy series has evolved a lot over the years (and I'm only talking about the official numbered entries, not the myriad spin-off's SE has produced). This is part of what makes the series interesting; they always remix the old and add new elements. Some attempts at re-inventing the franchise have been more successful than others. 

The way I see it you can group these games into three main camps, or eras for lack of a better term. For simplicity's sake, let's call them the Early, Middle, and Late Eras.

Early Era
| Final Fantasy's 1 - 6 |

Final Fantasy's roots were humble. The Early Era was confined to the NES and the SNES, way before mind-blowing realistic graphics or analog sticks. Squaresoft (their name before merging with Enix) pioneered what would become the JRPG movement with Final Fantasy I (and Dragon Quest I, but we'll save that for another article). Final Fantasy's II and III were not deemed marketable in the West, so we didn't seen another entry in the series over here until IV (which received the localized name FFII). FFV was  skipped as well, so VI became the West's III. 

The naming convention of the Early Era's Final Fantasy's is still a controversial topic, but for purposes of this article I will stick with the original Japanese sequence. 

These first six Final Fantasy's all shared a certain play control, spirit, and elegant simplicity that was unique unto themselves, and lost in subsequent releases. The Early Era used up, down, left, right controls, contained simple, memorable sprite animations, and retained a focus on hardcore RPG mechanics and gripping story line. 

The first few Final Fantasy's, particularly FF1, through the great fortune of Nobuo Uematsu's guidance, set the standard for how Final Fantasy sounded. The melodies and sound effects in the first game have been recycled over and over again since then. Ever since the beginning of the franchise, this haunting melody has been a mainstay:

These games were released during the 8 and 16-bit "Golden Era" of gaming, and it shows. When Final Fantasy VII came out, everything changed...

Middle Era
| Final Fantasy's 7 - 10 |

Final Fantasy VII was when the series went mainstream. A whole new era of FF fans emerged, including the likes of girls and casual gamers. Now before I go any further I'd like to say that there has always been female gamers, of course, but JRPG's were primarily male turf until FF7. 

The franchise made a platform shift from Nintendo's hardware to Sony's, and the Playstation was toted as being a medium for cinematic-focused delivery. The Final Fantasy series followed suit. 

Along with improved graphics and movie-like cutscenes came stale static backgrounds of rendered images, with few moving sprites and analog control. Although this looks good on paper, and many fans of the series claim this is their favorite age, it detracted from the up, down, left, right elegance that the first six installments finessed with. 

Another major change in the Middle Era was the defaulted difficulty shrinking to the lowest common denominator (at least in the Western market) in order to tailor to a larger more casual audience. Again, this looked great on paper, and I'm sure it sold more copies and made more money for Square, but it was slowly watering down the basic formula that the hardcore fans of the series had grown to love.

Probably Final Fantasy's most popular character
It is worth not only noting, but emphasizing, that Final Fantasy 7 is by far, hands down, the most popular entry in the series. Graphics that for their time were incredible, a fun exciting memorable story, and characters (*cough* Sephiroth *cough*) that the fanboys have gone crazy over for years to come -- this has all come together to make for a spectacular financial success for Square Enix. Of course we can contrast this with FFX-2's commercial failure and see that the marketing tactics of the Middle Era have had their ups and downs.

But it wouldn't be Final Fantasy is every game in the series was the same. Which takes me to my next topic, the Late Era..
Late Era

| Final Fantasy's 11 - 14... |

The Final Fantasy's of the Late (or Modern) Era have a lot in common with one another, and differ widely from those that preceded them. While still maintaining the core essence of the series, such as the story emphasis on magical crystals, the music, the basic combat and number-crunchy JRPG mechanics, the Late Era takes some significant steps away from its roots.

One of the main differences is in terms of control and visual style. If the Early Era was all about 2d up, down, left, right, and the Middle Era was all about analog controls around still backgrounds, the Late Era is all about 3d. Each of the four games that make up the Late Era are set in fully 3d worlds, navigated in 3rd person. Although this follows the natural progression that video games have taken in general it is a whole direction for Final Fantasy. In other words, this ain't yo mamm's FF.

Another departure from the series is the sheer scope of the games -- the Late Era games are *HUGE*. While 11 and 14 are MMO's, and deserve to be massive in their own right, 12 and 13 are damn near big enough to be MMO's  themselves. The size of the map, the development cycle, the amount of items, bosses, summons, length of story, size of zones and cities -- it's all much much bigger than before.

That brings me to my next point, and the crux of this whole article -- the Late Era has also ushered in the advent of the Final Fantasy MMO. Considering the pattern already established, and the success of, well FF11, if not FF14, you be the judge. Will FF17 be their next MMO, or will there be yet another Era, the next page in the history of Final Fantasy...
  • Final Fantasy XI (online)
  • Final Fantasy XII (offline)
  • Final Fantasy XIII (offline)
  • Final Fantasy XIV (online)
  • Final Fantasy XV (offline?)
  • Final Fantasy XVI (offline?)
  • Final Fantasy XVII (online?)
Square Enix has continued to innovate with their bread-winning FF franchise, but they have also stuck to a fairly consistent pattern of slow progression. If this pattern persists, then why won't they make another numbered FF into an MMO? Despite the commercial failure of FF14 (at least so far--it hasn't been released for PS3 yet ;-), FF11 has been an extremely successful game, with a plethora of expansions and millions of happy subscribers earning Square a ton of money. 

Makes sense to me that they would make another MMO eventually, when 11 fizzles into old age and 14 either takes its spot or dies premature. They always need to do their planning and developing WAY ahead of release dates. By the time FF15 and 16 have come and gone, won't we be ready for another FF MMO?

Written by Twan

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