Final Fantasy XV – All or Nothing.
There’s an extraordinary amount of both hype and pressure that currently precedes Final Fantasy XV. This pressure is being applied both internally and by the external fans and press, and evidence that Square-Enix is feeling it is most visible in what is quite frankly the best piece of media that the game has produced to this point – the fantastic “Reclaim Your Throne” trailer.
It wasn’t the sensational visuals, imposing monsters and other awesome qualities that intrigued me the most about the trailer – it was a few key lines of dialogue that told me that the leadership at Square-Enix are united behind this game. “You are the key to our redemption”, “Only you can restore the light” and “Only you can reclaim the throne” are surely powerful phrases in the story of this one self-contained video game, but must surely resonate much deeper within the company.
You only need to be a casual consumer of games media to have observed that the reception to core Final Fantasy games has been on the decline in the last few entries. Final Fantasy XII, while I personally think it was an outstanding title doesn’t sit in the same rarefied air that past entries occupy. Final Fantasy XIII is regularly criticised for having taken close to two dozen hours before it “gets good”, and the direct sequels to it were torn apart for having become unnecessarily convoluted, and poorly designed, resulting in a significant drop off critically and commercially. Couple these two lesser received entries with the rising prominence of the Tales and Persona franchises, and what was previously a JRPG genre that Final Fantasy dominated, has now become seriously competitive.
Final Fantasy XV is out to reassert the franchises claim of being the premiere Japanese Role Playing Game in the business, and with phrases such as ‘Only you can Reclaim the Throne’ it seems that Square-Enix are treating the game as an everything or bust situation. Core Final Fantasy have ceased to be major tentpole releases that all in the gaming world stops for, but Square-Enix are out to rectify this, and their aggressive marketing plan that they’ve kicked off is only the first step in the process. The Final Fantasy XV event back in March highlighted to millions of gamers worldwide that Square-Enix once again wishes to make core franchise releases into tentpole events, but before that can happen they need to deliver an exceptional game this time around – lest all their good work thus far be undone. So on that note let’s take a deeper look at the game then.
Final Fantasy XV is looking to perform an extraordinarily difficult juggling act. It wishes to advance the franchise, as well as the genre forward, whilst simultaneously paying respect to the twelve core entries that have preceded it (I of course discount XI and XIV from this conversation). Homages will perhaps go unnoticed to the untrained eyes, but you’ll spot monsters or summons that look as they were conceptually designed by Yoshitaka Amano two decades ago, and there are surely countless more references that we’re yet to have been shown. At the end of the day though this is a new Final Fantasy game in 2016, and a lot has changed since even the tenth entry in the franchise – the ATB is gone, there’s an open world, it plays like an action game, the road-trip feel, and numerous other new elements are all included. It’s a very different feel for this fifteenth entry, and it’s going to require some incredible work to make this new entry feel both fresh and familiar to audiences new and old.
So what else does Final Fantasy XV need to do to ‘Reclaim the Throne’? With the presence of the game now confirmed for E3 2016, the game needs to make a major splash. It won’t have the benefit of one more TGS so E3, and perhaps GamesCom are the final opportunities for Final Fantasy XV to pull in fans before the critics get their hands on the final product. At those events Square-Enix needs to throw everything but the kitchen sink at us, substantial gameplay portions in a variety of different locations, a couple juicy cinematics that set up the narrative, and more. They need to assault our senses with as much content as possible, giving the game maximum exposure, while walking the tightrope to ensure they don’t spoil too much.
Once the final product is out in the wild though, everyone involved just needs to cross their fingers and pray they’ve delivered the product we all hope the game can be. They need to appease the existing fanbase, a touchy bunch who can get quite vocal about the franchise they adore. They also need to get the game in the faces of the wider community, so widespread advertising is a must, but while they’re at it, leverage the ownership of Eidos and their IP by sliding references to the game in some of their current high profile titles, such as Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Hitman.
It has been a long road for Final Fantasy XV, and while things are shaping up quite nicely, the finish line is still a long way away. There’s a lot of work still to be done particularly in marketing, while the game itself needs to be exemplary. Square-Enix is a publisher with a storied history, one that to this day, continues to deliver extraordinary interactive experiences; all going well, they can strike gold once again. I for one believe they can restore the franchise to its former glory, but brand appeal alone won’t do the job, as it once did – let’s hope Square-Enix have learned this lesson in time.