A love story.
Back in the early 2000s (I refuse to say aughts), I remember going to my friend’s house down the street every weekend. My most vivid memories of that time are of me watching my friends play through Final Fantasy X and X-2 when those games released in 2001 and 2003 respectively. I also remember them playing Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, two other Square Enix games, but that’s a story for another time. I recall that they both spent hours upon hours playing X and X-2. I also remember the fact that these games weren’t just popular within my circle of friends: they were also discussed a lot in school by other people as well. My point is that, at the turn of the century, the Final Fantasy series was a big deal. Nowadays, however, that doesn’t seem to be the case. I thought long and hard about the state of Final Fantasy and I believe I have found the reason why the series isn’t as popular or important as it used to be: the series has been poorly managed for many years now.
I know it is incredibly presumptuous of me (as someone who has never worked at Square Enix) to say that management is to blame for how the series is perceived nowadays but just hear me out. What has become public knowledge over the years is evidence enough to support my claim. Still not convinced? Well, allow me to present to you Exhibit A: Final Fantasy Versus XIII.
If that name doesn’t sound familiar then I shall call it by the name it released with: Final Fantasy XV. Announced in 2007, Final Fantasy XV went through what has to be the worst development cycle of any game, ever. Without getting too deep into the details, the game went through engine changes, a generational shift (seventh generation of consoles to the eighth), a director swap, and the elimination of any connection it had to Final Fantasy XIII. It was truly a sight to behold watching the game creep towards the finish line during its nine-year development time.
What is even more staggering is that Final Fantasy XV’s woes didn’t end once it released. The story, for instance, was widely criticized due to the fact that some important moments seemed to happen offscreen. In response, the game was patched several times post-launch. These patches weren’t your standard bug fixes either: they added entirely new scenes to the story to better explain the events that occurred during the course of the game. This was all compounded by the fact that a feature film was released before the game’s launch which was necessary to understand the main conflict in the game. There was also a four-episode anime released on YouTube pre-launch. Does anyone else miss the good ole days when a game simply launched with the whole story on the game disc (or at least in the initial download)? In addition, four DLCs have been released post-launch which have expanded the story further because it was such a mess. The problems just kept coming for XV and they never seemed to end.
Point of fact, the tale of Final Fantasy XV will end in almost as spectacular a fashion as it began. In case you haven’t heard, Hajime Tabata, the final director responsible for Final Fantasy XV, has departed Square Enix (whether he was fired or left voluntarily is anyone’s guess). In addition, three out of the four still in-development DLCs have been cancelled. Oh, and Square Enix posted a $33 million-dollar loss incurred from work that was already expended developing these new DLCs. I honestly can’t think of a more fitting end to the saga of Final Fantasy XV. The project was plagued by problems throughout its development cycle and for it to end with one final bang is just icing on the cake.
Now, a lot of people blame Tabata for how the game turned out but I don’t think he deserves it. He was only responsible for the last two or three years of a project that was, to put it nicely, floundering. You couldn’t realistically expect him to pull a diamond out of a trash heap. If a person was declared Mayor of a city that was in the middle of burning, the expectation probably wouldn’t be that they would rebuild the city on par with Paris once the fire had burned out. I think the same principle applies to Hajime Tabata. I know I got lost on a tangent there but the point is this: Final Fantasy XV was hindered by poor management throughout its development cycle and the Final Fantasy name suffered for it.
These were the first few comments on the story about the DLCs being cancelled.
I don’t know much about this game but I feel I would be remiss not to mention it. That game is the MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV. To say it was poorly received when it first released in 2010 would be an understatement. It was so hated that almost the entire management team was replaced and Square Enix planned to overhaul the entire game. Three years later and the game reemerged as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.
The newly revised game essentially advanced the in-game time by five years, the entire world in-game suffered a cataclysmic event, and, as a result, the experience was completely different from what it was before. From all accounts, the game is great now and people love it. But just think about what the game went through: Square Enix literally had to destroy the game and replace it in order to make it acceptable. The fact that this took place during the same timeframe as when Final Fantasy XIII Versus (XV) was languishing in development hell leads me to believe that the series as a whole was (is) being grossly mismanaged. I don’t know what was happening over there at Square Enix HQ during those years but I hope those issues have been resolved.
Unfortunately, though, I don’t think this is the case. My proof is how Final Fantasy VII Remake is being handled. Final Fantasy VII is probably the most beloved entry in the series to date and fans have been clamoring for a remake for years now. Square Enix first trolled fans in 2005 when they showcased the power of the PS3 by showing a tech demo of VII’s opening running on the machine. Therefore, it was a big surprise when the project was actually revealed at E3 2015. Fans were elated at the announcement but over the past few years enthusiasm has died down.
The reasons are as numerous as they are obvious. For one, Square Enix revealed that the game would be released in several parts or episodes. If it isn’t immediately apparent why this is worrisome then I suggest that you reread the paragraphs about XV. In addition, Tetsuya Nomura (character designer for the original Final Fantasy VII) didn’t know he was the director of the damn game until he saw his name next to the word “director” on a company slideshow. And the final nail in the coffin is the fact that it was revealed earlier this year that development had been shifted from an external studio to an internal team at Square Enix.
Once again, let’s pause and think about this for a moment. Square Enix was going to release the game, a remake of one of the most beloved entries in the Final Fantasy series (let alone games of all time), in several episodes, let an external company work on it, and the guy who was supposedly going to direct the game didn’t know about it until he saw it on a slideshow. Those facts all lined up together is absolutely mindboggling and they don’t imbue me with much confidence in VII Remake.
Before I wrap this up, I do want to discuss the supposed director (who knows, it could change again) of Final Fantasy VII Remake: Tetsuya Nomura. People who followed the long and tortuous development of Final Fantasy XV undoubtedly recognize the name. He was the first director of the project when it was still called Final Fantasy Versus XIII. He was ostensibly removed from XV’s development because, at the same time, he was also director of Kingdom Hearts III (also a long in-development title). This was supposed to give him more time to focus on Kingdom Hearts but, since he has been made the director of Final Fantasy VII Remake as well, it kind of defeats the purpose.
I firmly believe that, since even Nomura himself admits that VII Remake was revealed too early, not much work has been done on the project. The good news for fans is that Kingdom Hearts III is coming out in late January so maybe that means Nomura will soon only have one project to focus on for a change. I just hope it stays that way because Square Enix, indeed the Final Fantasy series as a whole, doesn’t need another game languishing in development hell for years on end.
I hope I have presented my argument clearly here. Final Fantasy XV (Versus XIII), Final Fantasy XIV, and now Final Fantasy VII Remake have all experienced difficulties during their development cycles. Although many reasons may be attributed to this fact, I believe the biggest factor has been the poor management that all of these titles have been subjected to. I sincerely hope that Square Enix fixes its management issues so that Final Fantasy can, once again, retake its place among the pantheon of the greatest video game series’ of all time.
Thanks for reading! Do you agree with my assessment? What do you think is Final Fantasy’s biggest problem? Do you even think there is an issue with the series? Let me know!
p.s. I think Square Enix should make a Final Fantasy based solely on this poster, found in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, of a future title.
p.s.s. Someone edited the image above to show Final Fantasy Versus XIII’s release coming in the fall of Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s universe. The events in that game take place in 2027 so that tells you how much faith people had in the game coming out anytime soon.