It's not a myth, Final Fantasy is still broken
Look, I don't want anyone to get fired. However, I am someone that considers a good Final Fantasy game a piece of art. However, as we know there has been a notable decline in the quality of Final Fantasy games since, oh, I don't know Final Fantasy VII.
This decline is not in graphics or even gameplay, specifically the true decline of Final Fantasy in recent instalments has been its storytelling.
Let me be clear. I still love all that is Final Fantasy, however, I feel like there is something off about almost every single one of them after VI.
I fell in love with the Final Fantasy series (and Square in general) because they produced simple, but rich emotional narratives about epic fantasy landscapes ala VI, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana.. however, when VII came out everything changed.
The Writing Got Kind of Shitty.
Square pulled out their big guns and made this beautiful game to introduce themselves to the world. The marketing was brilliant, the music was masterful, graphics were beyond compare with any other JRPG (and most games at the time). Final Fantasy seemed to have it all... except for one small thing-
Final Fantasy VII had a completely convoluted plot. Its ideas were sound and the mythology was great, however the exposition, tone, and dialogue were off on so many levels throughout the entire story. With VII we got something beautiful but too complex in storytelling. The great irony is that this game was a blockbuster and became the new template for Final Fantasy games: Beautiful looking role playing. However, the unnecessary cost of this was a neglect for well crafted story telling. I honestly believe a corporate philosophy was born with VII that mandated graphics dictate an entire game, and this allowed for some of the worst narrative structuring in JRPG history to occur.
Essentially, all of this is directly related to money and profit. If you want to get a sense of how Square Enix thinks as a company, read this infuriating interview.
The original philosophy of the first Final Fantasy game, according to Sakaguchi, was to make something with characters and a story. This concept was expanded upon thoroughly in the evolution from games 1-6, culminating with something so rare and beautiful in the consideration of a steam punk motif combined with a neoclassical opera sub-text within Final Fantasy VI.
Then enter Kazushige Nojima, he is a writer who has been at the narrative helm of FF VII, VIII, X, XIII (the entire Fabula series) and XV. Again, if one were to analyze the writing in each of these games, you find intricate and perplexing lore, poor dialogue and lackluster exposition of major details and events.
Check out this quote:
"Though Nojima's stories often become overly convoluted, they always have functioning internal logic that sees them through — and, of course, he's responsible for giving a personality to some of the most iconic characters in gaming.
Unafraid to tell a love story in gaming, Nojima takes stories from adrenaline-soaked battlefields to tender, more personal moments, and back again, with ease and grace. A list of memorable moments that has come from the games he's worked on is far too long to attempt here.
But with work ranging from Smash Bros. to Final Fantasy, he has established himself as one of the strongest and most widely-consumed voices in the industry."
- Christian Nutt, features director, Gamasutra
I don't know, I just don't know if I would call "overly convoluted" stories a good thing for the Final Fantasy series. And the big thing is that Square Enix seems to empower this kind of thing in their games. Why is noone in charge of the ship talking about writing? I dread seeing what becomes of the plot of XV, to be honest.
Plainly put, if there's something truly rotten with Final Fantasy it is the writing and something needs to be done about it.
Where in the World if Hiroyuki Ito?
Speaking of return and redemption, have you heard of a man named Hiroyuki Ito. He doesn't get the limelight that players like Sakaguchi, Uematsu, Kitase and Nomura get but this dude has been a key player in the production of FF V, FF VI, FFIX, FFXII.
He hasn't be a part of a mainline Final Fantasy game since 2006 and yet I can't help but feel he is responsible the heart of good storytelling in his games. Or at least, he knows how to bring coherence to a FF. He is a man who began as a battle designer for the games and understands how to bridge the relationship between gameplay and story telling. Actually, if you search around, there are a lot of people who want Ito to take the helm of a FF Game, presumably FF XVI.
My message to Square-Enix: Take Yoshi P's advice to save your series.
Remember in the interview when Yoshi P said a focus on graphics killed the original FF XIV? Well, I feel that his principal of dedicating energy to gameplay and story need to be the company's path to true and full redemption.
If the game series is to become a true and great series, then it is time to focus on your writing Square Enix. Final Fantasy could easily be the Game of Thrones of the gaming world. Good writing and good dialogue key reasons people sit down to invest 40 hours into a fantasy world. Look at every review of AAA games in the past 5 years. Story will break a game! It broke Destiny and it broke Far Cry 4. It's broken most of your last Final Fantasy games. But good writing also made GTA V and Borderlands so special. Good writing made Dragon Age and Child of Light and Persona, new classic RPGs.
If terrible writing doesn't kill XV, give good writing a whirl for XVI and see how it fits the legacy.