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Where the Final Fantasy franchise is today

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Final Fantasy, despite ‘defecting’ to the 360 with its thirteenth instalment, is still one of the jewels in the PlayStation brand’s crown. People will inevitably look back on VII, VIII, IX and X as the renaissance period of Square Enix’s long-running RPG series (in terms of sales, at least). During the period that these games were released, the JRPG sub-genre was opened up for the world to see – if Final Fantasy VII had never sold 9 million copies worldwide, you can be sure that series like Shin Megami Tensei, Dragon Quest and Eternal Sonata would never have been given a fighting chance on European shores.

Still, even though Final Fantasy X was only released here in 2002, the series has since expanded in a very different direction. No longer is a main instalment this sacred, once-in-a-long-time event. When Final Fantasy X-2 became the first linear sequel in the series, it’s as if the leash was taken off; developers within Square Enix started experimenting with different gameplay styles, characters and scenarios.

From a financial point of view, this has been a boon for Square Enix. As a consumer, the impact is a little more mixed. For every quality, well-produced FF spin-off like Crisis Core or Revenant Wings on the DS, there’s a misguided attempt to grab a new audience, like the Chocobo games on the DS. For me, Square Enix’s new mantra towards its back catalogue has been beneficial – there are universes within the main Final Fantasy titles that deserve to be expanded upon.

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With mental pop songs and pointless, anime-style frolics, FF X-2 demonstrated Square Enix’s revised approach towards the series.

While there’s a pocket of people that will purchase many of these titles, like me, I believe that the fringe audience of Final Fantasy – ie: those who liked VII, perhaps VIII, IX and X too – is shrinking as a result. I had the fortune of sitting in the same room as two different kinds of gamer, yesterday. One was a seasoned JRPG fan, who had completed Final Fantasy VIII at least three times, as well as every other title in the series he could get his hands on. The other was a semi-casual gamer, who had played through all of the PSone and PS2 titles, but admitted that he gave up on XII within the first three hours. Neither are terribly excited about any of the upcoming spin-offs (quite surprising in the former case), but both acknowledge that they plan on picking up XIII.

The contrast between old Squaresoft and new Square Enix is staggering: we’ve gone from sequels and crossovers being completely out of the question, to Final Fantasy X-2 and Kingdom Hearts testing the waters, before elaborate plans for a series of spin-offs are laid out before the main game is even complete. The ultimate example of Square Enix’s current corporate mentality is the multi-decade mash-up Dissidia: Final Fantasy on the PSP, which threatens to sell a payload in Japan, and will likely see Sony’s handheld topple the DSi for a few weeks. Cloud, Cecil and Tidus in the same story? Five years ago, that would’ve been the subject of extremely poor fan-fiction.

Eventually (and we may even be at that point now), some fans are going to feel oversaturated by the onslaught of Final Fantasy remakes and spin-offs. Let’s see how Dissidia is received by the public, before we say anything too rash…




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