Thursday, August 25, 2016

My Final Fantasies: My Love Affair With Square Enix

Quick life update: I'm not back. Not yet, not completely. I recently moved to Texas at the end of last month. I really love the city I'm in. Unfortunately, I'm also going through one of my famous crises, and so instead of sitting in the middle of the shit tornado – a few turds off from the direct center – blank eyed and completely numb, I decided to talk about something I care about.

Aah, yes. What a colourful imagery to jump into today's topic with.

Since this is a bit off an off the hat post, it's just gonna come out without any real scheduling, but let's kick the dirt for a bit and talk about Square Enix.

I'll never forget the years before the merge when Square Enix was still the creepily-whispered-by-a-child-in-the-middle-of-the-night SquareSoft. Square Enix (or Squeenix as it's been hilariously referred to by the fans) publishes one of my all-time favourite series Final Fantasy. I love Kingdom Hearts and Tomb Raider (that, actually, being another – specifically pre-remake TR), but there's something about FF that really scratches an itch and throws me into a creative fervor.

The first game I played was Final Fantasy 8. It actually is one of my favourites in that entire series. Not just because of the bonkers banana sauce, quasi-traumatising ending, but because of something Squall said in his internal monologue while at Galbadia Garden with the others:

“Will they talk about me this way if I die too? Squall was this and that. Using the past tense, saying whatever they want? So this is what death is all about…”

And then shouting, out loud, "I will not be talked about in the past tense!" That has stuck with me for years. I think about that regularly because it's such a powerful moment that defines Squall's otherwise noncommittal, detached, and honestly hard-to-satisfy character, but that's also what made me fall in love with Squall as a character from that moment until now even. Squall and I share the same fear of death, and I think that when he was having t hat monologue was grasping the sheer weight and reality of living and dying. Again, those moments brought me closer to Squall.

Some time later, I ended up playing and finishing Final Fantasy VII in its entirety. I fell in love with the entire world. Where VIII has a very tangled, but still very interesting, world revolving death, magic, and time travel, VII has something a bit more straight forward as far as time-progression but easily just as fucked up as far as overall world. Vincent ended up being my favourite character who's entire life ends up getting ripped from underneath him, and then there's Cloud with his obvious identity crises.

But not only them, I ended up enjoying everyone and their own individual struggles, calls to action, and personal investment in this overall quest. VII grabbed me in different ways from VIII, but together, they ended up wrapping up my entire life and giving me more faith to pursue the series.

Of course, FF isn't without its faults. Final Fantasy X-2 is still my greatest adversary as far as sequels go in this franchise, and we all remember the initial failure that was Final Fantasy XIV. But Square Enix has a formal in making characters that are beautiful, far more interesting than we first understand, and in making an overworld that is rich with lore and detail.

Which launches me into my next point — you can already imagine what I'm going to talk about.

I'm excited about Final Fantasy XV and the Final Fantasy VII remake. I rarely talk about them. For some reason, it's been a literal struggle for me to talk to anyone else about FFXV. Strangely, I don't see many people in my immediate or extended circles talking about the remake, which for me is primarily awesome. Let's break this down into two quick parts.

Full disclosure here? I think FF15 is going to be beautiful. I think it's going to be a very in-depth game that tries to get the players more involved. Now that the characters talk to each other while walking around and in battle, now that it's possible to trip over your companions or synchronise an awesome combo, now that there is more and more, I expect FF15 to be delightful to play. I've written my fair share of stories in the FF15 universe, thinking about the numerous interactions between players, companions, and the world, and funnily enough, I feel like a lot of my fantasizing isn't too far off the mark.

Usually, I don't get this hype about a game, especially with the way gaming has gone with AAA developers, but there's a lot of good reason to get interested in FFXV. And plus, Square Enix has brought back the good old fashioned practice of playing a demo. A public, non-press related demo that anyone who can access it can play. It's great! There's a great deal of transparency with this game and its development. Also, it's been delayed for two months? Personally, I think that's great too.

To me, that shows that they're invested in having the game work as its supposed to and putting out the quality that they promised. I don't expect them to hit the nail directly on the head, but the fact that they're taking extra time to make sure this game is polished is a bravo and a hand shake from me. I've heard less than favourable things about Kingsglaive, their most recent movie, but I wasn't really sure what to expect from it in the first place. If I had one thing to say about FF15 so far, it wouldn't even be about the game. It would be about the promotion surrounding the game. It's hefty, bordering on overwhelming. They're trying to hype up the game, which I think is endearing because they're excited about this game. They want to bring positive attention and get other people hyped about the game too. In them doing this, however, I feel like I can hear their hypothetical hype man screaming from over the ocean.

But that's just me. I just hope they can deliver on all of this exhaustible but positive hype.

To be honest, I don't have a lot to say about this game. I will say that you can see that they've evolved. Where I disagreed on Final Fantasy X & X-2 needing a remastered edition, Final Fantasy VII clearly needed one, and this looks like what a remake should be. There's one cutscene that has Cloud talking to someone, then turning his head, raising his hand, and slightly curling his fingers.

(1:01 - 1:05)

We can see how far they've come, not just with graphics, but in how they're able to bring these characters to life, in how they're able to infuse characters' personalities with their body and them as a whole with the world around them.

There is a degree of imaginative loss when it comes to an upgrade in graphics, but I feel as if the remake preserves that atmosphere we've come to know and love from long ago. Since a lot of their focus is set heavily on FF15, there's not a lot I feel I can say right now. However, I'm very much interested, and I want to see more with what they do.

I'm not sure how I feel about it being episodic. It's hard to tell who's using it more as a gimmick/excuse, and who's doing to properly unfold the story. Do I feel that VII should come out as an episodic release? Absolutely not, but this game is still in development and there's still a lot more for the devs to say about it. So, until then, I'll just sit back and wait. There's no reason to formulate a thought just yet.

Square Enix has got me pretty bad, but with everything I love, I can be incredibly critical. I've been critical about Square Enix for years, but when they get things right, they really nail it. I'm honestly hoping for their success with these two games in the FF franchise. Right now, I've been playing a lot of Final Fantasy Record Keeper (review long in the process, hopefully will be out soon), wondering how this game would expand if they ever got XV involved.

Only time will tell, and personally, I'm pretty happy to wait.

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