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Final Fantasy XIII is selling well but what next for the series?

Submitted by on Tuesday, 30 March 20107 Comments

Final Fantasy XIII has received stinging criticism from certain quarters, leading some to believe that the world has moved on from its fixation with the legendary Japanese RPG series. This death knell, however, may have been sounded prematurely given the excellent sales figures for the latest instalment.

According to GFK Chart-track, Final Fantasy XIII is the fastest selling game of 2010 in the UK, and the fastest selling Final Fantasy game ever. In Germany, it is the fastest and biggest selling console game of the year, and it is this year’s biggest seller in France. If you thought people had stopped caring about Final Fantasy then think again, as it’s clear millions still do.

Square Enix, as you would expect, are very happy with the success that Final Fantasy XIII is having.

“It’s great to see Final Fantasy XIII hitting the top of the UK charts and setting the pace as the fastest selling game of the year, with high profile TV spots playing out beyond Easter and branded buses still travelling the country I’m positive this title is only going to get bigger and bigger.” – Jon Brooke, UK Marketing Director at Square Enix

These figures follow an announcement from Square Enix last week, claiming that shipments of Final Fantasy XIII had surpassed 5 million worldwide, with 3 million having been shipped in North America and PAL territories. This brings the total shipments of the Final Fantasy series to an impressive 96 million. It’s further proof that Final Fantasy is one of the most successful franchises in gaming history.

It’s a franchise that Square Enix rely heavily on, and this is reflected in the amount of spin-offs, reissues, merchandise and even films, that have been released under the Final Fantasy brand. Questions can rightly be asked about the level of commitment that goes into making many of these spin-offs, such as the dreadful Dirge of Cerberus, but no one can doubt the love and care that goes into making the core Final Fantasy games.

For this reason, Square Enix would have felt a little anxious when they heard some of the feedback that Final Fantasy XIII had received from critics. Most of which wasn’t particularly positive, Edge magazine stood out with a 5/10 score, PSM3 gave it 70% and Eurogamer went with an average 80% mark. To add some much needed balance, there were some equally positive scores, a jubilant Games Radar gave it a perfect 10, and so did Playstation: The Official Magazine (US).

The difference in opinion is quite large; are the naysayers overplaying Final Fantasy XIII’s problems, or are the happy-bunch easily pleased and incapable of saying a bad word about a Final Fantasy game? The truth is possibly sitting somewhere in the middle. We at PS3 Attitude are loving it – as you could tell from our review – and it’s clear our readers are enjoying it to. Final Fantasy XIII is a very good game, so why has there been a cloud of negativity surrounding it?

One thing that Final Fantasy XIII cannot be criticised for is its amazing visuals

The cynic could argue that it’s media driven; after all, negativity always captures the public’s attention more so than positive coverage. It’s maybe unfair to accuse the dismissive journalists as being disingenuous; they are entitled to their opinions, and they have given fair reasons for criticising the game.

The negativity has also come from sources who you’d normally consider to be big fans of the series. Take GamesMaster for example, they gave the game an underwhelming 81%, arguing that it was “a classic example of style over substance” and closed with an apology.

“And that leaves us with a distressing situation – a Final Fantasy game scoring less than 90%. Dear friends, we’re as shocked as you.”

This apology says much about series; Final Fantasy has been as much a favourite for critics as it has been to fans over the years, to an extent that it became almost impenetrable to criticism.

Yet, somewhere along the line, apathy began to set in against Square Enix’s handling of the franchise. Maybe it’s a result of oversaturation; Final Fantasy XIII may be the first proper Final Fantasy game on the PS3, but it feels as though the brand has never ventured far from our eyes. They say familiarity can breed contempt.

The problem is more to do with value-for money as it is to do with quantity. Bringing Final Fantasy I & II to the PSP was an excellent decision by Square Enix, and to add new FMV sequences was also brilliant, but unforgivably they thought it would be a good idea to give full retail prices for games originally released in 1987 and 1988.

The Dirge of Cerberus was a terrible attempt to cash-in on Final Fantasy VII's popularity

Square Enix’s use of the brand has left the names Final Fantasy feeling very diluted of meaning. Is it any wonder journalists and internet fanboys are so vocal with their criticism? GamesMaster showed that it’s actually fine to criticise a Final Fantasy game without needing to worry about a backlash. It’s like a game of – who can slag-off Final Fantasy XIII the most – is in play.

Maybe the backlash is partly a response to the hype-machine that surrounds Final Fantasy games. The last game, Final Fantasy XII, had praise showered upon it from all directions, yet it in hindsight it was an underwhelming game that lacked any real zest. There is certainly a section longtime fans who believe Square Enix have allowed the series to stagnate under their avaricious watch.

Thankfully for Square Enix, most gamers don’t have the same level of involvement as fanboys and journalists. Most couldn’t be described as die hard Final Fantasy fans, and plenty will be having the first exposure to the series with Final Fantasy XIII. Most probably couldn’t tell you who Square Enix are, never mind carry a grudge because they wasted good money on the Dirge of Cerberus once upon a time. We suspect most will be thoroughly impressed with Final Fantasy XIII, and would be surprised to hear that it’s been getting some terrible reviews.

Still, the atmosphere would have been tense at Square Enix in the lead up to Final Fantasy XIII’s release. They’re not be used to criticism being labelled at their multi-award winning Final Fantasy series.

This anxiety can be a good thing; publishers should never allow themselves to get complacent. They will be angry at the negative press and they will want to prove to the critics that Final Fantasy is still a force to be reckoned with which could work out well for us.

The problem is figuring out where to take the series next? Square Enix are dammed whatever they do. A complaint of Final Fantasy XIII is that it doesn’t show signs of evolution, something that is not true. The battle system has undergone a massive overhaul giving us faster, more exciting battles. It’s also the most streamlined and focussed narrative in a Final Fantasy game ever, mostly because they abandoned cities and towns. Brave moves that have brought about criticism.

One of the main complaints about Final Fantasy XII was also a result of the radical changes to the battle system through the introduction of the gambit system. The Final Fantasy brand may get criticised for not evolving, but it seems that any attempt they make to innovate is frowned upon.

One of the main criticisms levelled out at Final Fantasy XIII is its lack of towns and cities. Now that the team has a good engine in place, they could focus their time on building an expansive world, but you know this will lead to accusations of predictability; that it’s a desperate attempt from Square Enix to relive the glory days.

Final Fantasy XIII has another problem; it’s not Final Fantasy VII. Cloud’s adventures have fully cemented their place in the gaming hall of fame, but the reverence that is attached to this game is making it very difficult for every new Final Fantasy title. Even at a recent Final Fantasy XIII launch party, Yoichi Wada, President and CEO of Square Enix, had to answer questions regarding a remake for Final Fantasy VII.

The calls for a next-gen version of Final Fantasy VII have become overwhelming

The game is an obsession for RPG fans, and they are desperate for more. Square Enix haven’t helped matters by releasing a prequel to Final Fantasy VII with Crisis Core on the PSP, and a sequel through the animated film Advent Children. That tech demo in 2005 which relived the game’s famous intro with updated graphics didn’t help much either. Square Enix have been feeding the Final Fantasy VII frenzy, and it has been great to return to Gaia, but it’s making it difficult for any new Final Fantasy game to establish its own reputation.

A remake appears to be the most likely route that Square Enix will take; Wada has even admitted that the company were seriously considering it:

“Right now we don’t have a clear direction, but many fans have requested we remake Final Fantasy VII. We’re going to explore the possibility – whether or not we’re going to do it, if we’re going to do it, and the platform.”

A remake of Final Fantasy VII would be a guaranteed hit. It is an exciting prospect, but it could lead to new problems for Square Enix: instead of satisfying the cravings for Final Fantasy VII it could end up making the phenomenon even bigger. They can’t rely on Final Fantasy VII remakes forever.

Come December, the Final Fantasy brand will be 23 years old; a fantastic achievement. The quality of Final Fantasy XIII and the success its having shows that there will be no death of Final Fantasy in the near future, but Square Enix have difficult decisions to make; they know it themselves.

They must combat this apathy that surrounds the brand these days, and get everyone excited about new Final Fantasy games again. They must get back to focussing on quality instead of quantity – the Final Fantasy name should not be diluted to incorporate half-arsed spin-offs. They also need to finally let go of the ghost of Final Fantasy VII. Maybe a remake would allow us all to move on, and allow excellent games such as Final Fantasy XIII a chance to be appreciated.