Where does the legend go from here.
Final Fantasy XV was a big moment in the series. Fans, worried about the fate of the franchise after the divisive Final Fantasy XIII games, and the flop of the original iteration of Final Fantasy XIV, looked to FFXV to bring the series back to its former glory. Was it the second coming that some fans were waiting for? No, it wasn’t. But it was a good game with a strong central cast of likable characters. FFXV’s success is quite apparent with early sales for the game and, of course, how much Square Enix keeps trying to push its extended universe on everyone.
The main game provided the basis of the story, but if you really wanted the full picture you’d need to watch Kingsglaive and Brotherhood. Even past that we had Justice Monsters V the mobile game, the GameStop pre-order bonus exclusive A King’s Tale, and a mini-novel that actually served as the opening act to the game, which didn’t get an English translation until much later. All of this is a lot to ask players to commit to just to get the full picture, let alone within the launch window of the game. Of course, the overall narrative that all of these properties weave is fascinating and the world of FFXV is brimming with lore. Lore that’s just hard to uncover if you’re only playing the main game.
At this point, we don’t know how much money Square sunk into Versus XIII and FFXV over the ten-year development cycle, but it’s fair to say it was probably a heck of a lot. Fans may not realize the jeopardy the series was actually in, and how much was riding on FFXV’s success. During a presentation at GDC (Game Developer’s Conference) earlier this year, Game Director Hajime Tabata spoke about how FFXV could have been the last game in the series had it not cleared its 5-6 million sales projection. The good news is that the game is now well above those projections. However, this doesn’t change the fact that we have don’t have a good idea of what the future of the franchise will be.
Since the release of FFXV we’ve seen a wealth of content for the game and property: Episode Gladio and Prompto, numerous content updates, King’s Knight on mobile, the Comrades multiplayer expansion, A New Empire mobile game, Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition, Monster of the Deep, Noctis added to Dissidia, a XV and Assassin’s Creed crossover, Noctis added to Tekken 7, and more planned character episodes. That’s quite the list, far more than most games see in the year or two after their release. This is most likely due to Square Enix’s increased interest in pursuing the “games as a service” model.
It’s clear that FFXV is Square Enix’s testing ground for trying out a games as a service model, while also trying to recoup whatever funds it lost on its long development cycle. They’ve added constant updates and patches to the game, tweaking and changing things here and there, adding in new cutscenes and story options, and more. The experience you had with FFXV when it launched is not the experience you get now, although the core would be the same. It’s an approach Square Enix could take with the likes of Final Fantasy VII Remake, which we already know is episodic in some way. Yet, after a while all these different properties you need to buy or take part in start to wear on people. Square is absolutely fine for the time being, but if they start doing to every big game what they did to FFXV, it might be a different story.
I consider myself a fan of FFXV, heck it was even my favorite game of 2016. But even for me, all of this is starting to feel a bit gimmicky. I’m all about anything that adds to the main story of XV, like the upcoming Episode Ignis, but find myself wondering why we need Pocket Edition or Noctis in Tekken. It almost feels like Square Enix is trying to force Noctis into becoming a great icon of gaming. Noctis is a good character, he just doesn’t have that same gravitas that someone like Cloud, or even Lightning has. Not yet anyway, and I question if him appearing in things like Tekken can really help with that.
How many fans are still going to stick around for the content coming to XV, especially if it’s spread out across 2018? After the main character episodes are out of the way with Ignis releasing in the next few weeks, there’s little motivation for fans to return, unless something really drastic happens. Multiplayer does hold appeal for some players, and hopefully, Square Enix diligently updates the new expansion. However, for the player base that wants big single-player experiences it may have a hard time holding their attention. You can play Comrades solo, but the shaky teammate AI just doesn’t do a good job of holding you up as you fight tougher enemies and take on harder missions later on. After completing the main story, there’s just not a huge incentive for players to stick around in Eos unless they’re serious, die-hard fans, especially not in the face of other big RPGs nearing release like Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Dragon Quest XI, and Kingdom Hearts III to name a few. This leads us to the big problem facing Final Fantasy right now, where do we go from here?
With the announcement of even more character episodes on the way for FFXV, there’s going to be more content hitting in 2018. Tabata says he wants to appeal to fans that may have lost interest in the game, but as XV starts to go on two years, some fans and YouTubers are starting to feel like the game is getting milked a bit. The character episodes have been decent quality so far, and that’ll probably remain the same, but it’s clear that Square Enix is trying to get XV to run right up to its next big release, whether that’s Kingdom Hearts III or something else.
It’s the 30th anniversary of Final Fantasy this year, and it’s strange that we haven’t seen the announcement or a new look at anything outside of Dissidia. Obviously, the financial focus for Square Enix is on the FFVII Remake, but Square has released a wealth of smaller handheld titles in between big entries like Final Fantasy Explorers, Theatrythm, and The Four Heroes of Light. Final Fantasy has been a staple of gaming for a long time, with multiple releases every single year since 2003. That makes it strange to think that after Dissidia in January, we don’t know what’s coming next.
We’ve seen more content and an expansion added to Final Fantasy XIV, the release of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, and Dissidia coming to consoles, but none of this is really new. While Stormblood is a new expansion on XIV, it’s still iterating on a Final Fantasy property that’s already out in the wild. Even more worrying is that it has been nearly two years since we’ve seen a trailer for the Final Fantasy VII Remake. Looking at Final Fantasy XV’s troubled development, one can’t help but jump to negative conclusions about where VII’s remake is at.
At this point, Square Enix needs to give fans some kind of look or idea at where they’re going, instead of continuing to bolster FFXV. FFXV’s content has done well, but the longer they take to show us something new or from the Final Fantasy VII Remake, the less confidence they inspire. It still kind of feels like a far-off dream, as we’ve yet to see or hear anything substantial on the game. We’ve seen a couple of trailers that sort of show off how the game will look, and play. These trailers, however, look more conceptual than anything, just like one of the early Final Fantasy XIII trailers that used pre-rendered scenes with combat menus thrown over them.
There’s already a healthy dose of skepticism from some fans regarding the FFVII Remake due to its episodic nature and more action-oriented combat, something you can see people going back and forth over on boards around the internet. With FFXV content nearing the end of its cycle, Square really needs to instill a bit of confidence in its fan base. Whether that means giving us a full proper look at the Final Fantasy VII Remake, or announcing something entirely new, it needs to be done. With Square supporting the Switch, going strong on mobile, and seeing success with both Final Fantasy XIV and XV, there’s definitely options on the table. Let’s not also forget that Final Fantasy Type-0 HD teased a potential sequel with artwork even popping up a couple years ago, another tease that hasn’t led anywhere yet.
There is truth to the saying too much of a good thing, and FFXV is getting dangerously close to that line. Considering Square’s new direction with games as a service, it seems like they should at least give us an initial look or taste of whatever we’re waiting for. We know now how important XV was to the series, now we’re all just chomping at the bit to see what’s next.