Nostalgia is a funny thing, something that can completely blind us from a game’s problems, or evoke a sense of wonder unlike anything else. Tomoya Asano and the so-called “Asano Team” at Square Enix have worked on two titles now that lean heavily on nostalgia, Bravely Default and Octopath Traveler. Both games feel like a natural advancement of the traditional Final Fantasy formula, and combine elements of the classic 16-bit JRPGs with that of modern games. Octopath Traveler certainly has its share of problems, but it’s amazing how unique and original it feels, and that’s something the mainline Final Fantasy series desperately needs right now.
Asano has worked as a producer on Octopath Traveler, Bravely Default, Bravely Second, Final Fantasy: The Four Heroes of Light, Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, and more. He and his team clearly have a lot of experience and have produced some great work, to the point that they should be given the chance to work on something huge. I am of course talking about the next big Final Fantasy.
Now I should clarify, I’m not saying the next Final Fantasy has to be 16-bit or have a turn-based battle system. Those aspects aren’t necessary, but after the monumental task that was Final Fantasy XV, it’d make sense for Final Fantasy XVI to be a smaller, more refined experience. Square Enix definitely has a problem with the ambition and scope of their projects, just look that the elongated development of Final Fantasy XV, the Final Fantasy VII Remake, and Kingdom Hearts III. With the success of Octopath and huge cost of XV and the VII Remake, it might be a good idea to kind of go back to basics for the next big Final Fantasy.
There are many comparisons that can be drawn between Octopath and Final Fantasy VI, what with the separate character stories that come together. Of course, the difference is that Final Fantasy VI’s story really do weave together into a larger narrative, while Octopath’s remain mostly self-contained outside of lore. The idea of multiple protagonists was novel in Final Fantasy VI, and Locke, Celes, and Terra all shared an equal stake in events, not to mention other party members like Edgar or Setzer. This is an idea that Final Fantasy has moved away from since then. There’s obviously party members, but each story has a central protagonist that gets the most screen time.
The multiple protagonists idea is something I’d love to see return in the next Final Fantasy, and it could serve as a great follow-up to Final Fantasy XV. Octopath’s narrative structure has you playing as characters around the entire world, and because of this you can get a feel for the rich world-building and lore the game contains. Each city is unique and each character’s story adds on bits of lore that help you understand the overall world and its history. This is something that Final Fantasy XV really had trouble with, as its narrative was so laser-focused on the main party that you didn’t get any feel for the overall world. By planting protagonists all around the world, Final Fantasy XVI could really enhance the scope of whatever conflict is happening. Of course, the stories would hopefully intersect much more than Octopath’s, and eventually lead to a larger goal.
Octopath Traveler has another interesting tidbit that really helps flesh out its world, with Alfyn and Cyrus’s Path Actions. By examining different NPCs you can get pieces of info, and also see a little biography on them. These are often well-written and surprising, like the random old man standing at the entrance of town who actually used to be an expert assassin, but got disillusioned with the profession after a job went wrong. so he retired. You would never have seen that piece of flavor text if you hadn’t examined the old man, and the little bits of people’s stories that you get makes every town feel alive. Again, this kind of design is something that could be implemented into a Final Fantasy game, and making it more focused on the world instead of just the main party, is something the more recent Final Fantasy games could have used.
There are also Bravely Default mechanics that you could combine with Octopath’s ideas, namely the job system and customizable options for combat. Being able to adjust the encounter rate and speed of battle was a godsend in Bravely Default, and they’re small touches that add to the quality of life of the experience. The job system in the Bravely games are also the most robust around outside of maybe Final Fantasy V, and being able to combine different jobs and skills together allowed for great variation between characters.
It also deserves special mention that Yasunori Nishiki, the composer of Octopath, should absolutely be on board for Final Fantasy XVI. It’s a wonderful, unique soundtrack that has a lot of pep and vigor, and again bringing fresh faces to the series can have great results, just look at Yoko Shimomura and Final Fantasy XV.
Both Bravely Default and Octopath Traveler have that spirit that made old Final Fantasy games great, but try new things to advance the genre or provide a unique spin on it. For the most part they both succeed, and it’s that kind of forward thinking that the Final Fantasy series needs. The Asano Team has direct experience with the Final Fantasy series, but they’ve been relegated to smaller projects so far. What they’ve achieved so far has been impressive but imagine what the team could do with a larger scope, more time, and more resources. Tetusya Nomura and his team are busy on Kingdom Hearts III and the VII Remake, Tabata and his team are on a new IP, so it could be the perfect opportunity for a fresh, ambitious team to take up the mantle.