The lights are on
No game in my must-play backlog can beat the gravitas and hype of Final Fantasy VI. A few weeks ago, I finally downloaded the RPG onto my Wii and started playing. My Final Fantasy-loving friends were ecstatic when I revealed I was playing it for the first time. I’ve invested many hours into my quest, and can say that this game has stood the test of time alarmingly well. So well, in fact, that I wonder why Square Enix doesn’t consider eschewing the high-budget spectacle new Final Fantasies have become in favor of something simpler. Something 16-bit.
Square Enix gave gamers a glimpse of next generation graphics the E3 2012 trailer Agni’s Philosohpy. The glossy, expensive demonstration hints at what many believe may become the next big Final Fantasy game. A scared girl flees a ritual gone wrong as AK-47-wielding enemies give chase. Wisps of blue magic, tracer bullets, and impressive explosions paint her sprint across shantytown rooftops. The trailer looks great, but then again so did Final Fantasy XIII leading up to release, and that’s one of the most polarizing games in the series. Looks aren’t everything. I’m excited for what Square Enix has brewing for the next console generation, but I think the company could have wowed just as many fans with a simpler approach.
Imagine the Square Enix logo followed by simple text plot exposition against a black background. Calm yet stirring orchestral music heralds a new adventure. Then, the music and the text both degrade into 16-bit form. The text becomes pixelated and a lone, digitized harp stands apart from the symphony, plucking out arpeggios of the classic Final Fantasy prelude. We see panning shots of a flat, Mode 7-inspired world we’ve never visited. The music builds towards the driving bass of a rousing new battle theme while the screen shows snippets of classic turn-based combat and new, unique characters. “Final Fantasy XV” flashes across the screen and the crowd loses its collective mind.
This game would be an entirely new adventure, not something attached to an existing Final Fantasy. No continuation of Final Fantasy VII or Final Fantasy XIII’s convoluted Nova Crystallis universe. Square did give Wii and PSP owners a 16-bit style sequel with Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, but the title didn’t exactly cause waves; it’s a continuation of Final Fantasy IV, with few enhancements to combat and character development. Another episodic game called Final Fantasy Legends launched on mobile devices on Japan in 2010. The game is releasing worldwide this summer as Final Fantasy Dimensions, but looks to share similarities with Final Fantasy IV: The After Years’ smaller scale. Final Fantasy VI’s cinematic style, interesting character interactions, and rewarding Esper system prove that Square Enix is capable of making something deeper within the 16-bit guidelines.
Square Enix has been great about bringing its classic RPGs to mobile devices, and I think the company should continue the trend by delivering this hypothetical sequel to all platforms. Swapping my progress between a Vita and PlayStation 3 is an enticing offer. Who wouldn’t like to do some quick level grinding on the bus, then continue playing on their nice HDTV at home? The game should obviously be available on downloadable markets like Xbox Live, PlayStation, and PC, but making the game available on mobile devices can only help. For those cringing while imagining using those clumsy virtual gamepads on their phone’s touchscreen, worry not – turn-based RPGs without a focus on twitch reflexes control fine on mobile devices.
Successful titles in the current downloadable market prove that flashy graphics don’t make great games. Fez, Super Meat Boy, Cave Story, and many other games have received high praise for their retro-themed look. Final Fantasy VI’s crisp sprites have aged beautifully, from Kefka’s animated flamboyance to Terra’s bewildered blinking. I’ll admit the Mode 7 airship navigation is a bit blurry, but it gets the job done and the dated gimmick is charming. Additionally, the music is some of the best in the series, making full use of the Super Nintendo’s powerful audio chipset. The famous opera scene is still a stirring display of expert musical craftsmanship, thanks in part to the creativity necessary to make full use of 16-bit hardware. If Square Enix could do it in 1994, there’s a chance the company could hit the mark again now. It’s worth a shot.
Several 16-bit RPG tributes have bubbled up into the mainstream this generation. Zeboyd Games developed Breath of Death VII: The Beginning, a parody of old-school RPGs and all things gaming. That title, along with Cthulhu Saves the World and the recent Penny Arcade’s on the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3, all offer gamers a new take on the old-school RPG. I love that Zeboyd is creating new, old RPGs, but not everyone wants something couched in sarcasm and satire. The classic Final Fantasy games are wonderful experiences even without any apologies made for the passage of time. A laugh isn’t the only reason to return to a bygone era – Final Fantasy VI proves that sympathetic characters, intense narrative twists, and complex combat can all be conveyed in 16-bit form without the self-deprecation.
Growing up with Sega systems, I didn’t get to play Square games like Final Fantasy IV and VI when they were relevant. I’ve been chatting with coworkers, friends, and Twitter followers throughout my playthrough of FF VI, and everybody’s combined enthusiasm is intoxicating. It reminds me of what middle-schoolers must have felt sharing battle strategies and secret Esper locations during lunchtime. Nostalgia weighs heavily on gamers’ appreciation for Final Fantasy VI, but my current run through the game is free from it. I’m essentially playing a new 16-bit Final Fantasy game, and I’m loving it. I think it’s time for a new adventure we can all experience for the first time, together.
Email the author Tim Turi, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.
I'm really excited you played ff6. You mentioned it in replay and I was instantly excited for you. I'm also really happy to hear you enjoyed it so much. I do agree that square should make a full scale 16 bit rpg. So many games are going back to that style, it would be a shame if they didn't at least try while they had a chance.
I'm thinking of getting the whole anthology (if possible) through PSN, and my favorite has always been IV. But, I understand where you are coming from. It wouldn't be a bad thing if they did it. Something old, but new at the same time.
Is there no way to put out a new Final Fanstasy title that has old-school turn-based gameplay with next generation graphics? From all the complaints I've heard about the series lately, this would seem to be the winning recipe. There is nothing wrong with giving the games beautiful graphics, but not at the expense of what made the series great to begin with. I have been a fan of the series since the very first game and have finished each one, but I can't say that any of the newer games in the series hold a candle to V, VI, VII, or VIII.
My first exposure to Final Fantasy was FFVII and I loved it. I didn't even play VI until well after the 16 bit era had passed, yet I loved it even more.
Recently, I played Final Fantasy XIII and I thought that it was terrible. I couldn't even get through XIII-2. I just gave up and sold it. The characters, the story, the dialog and the gameplay were horrendous.
I miss turn-based battles. I miss Final Fantasy feeling like Final Fantasy. From depth of character and narrative, to the thrill of exploration and discovery. FFVI had all of that in spades. How could XIII be such an utter failure next to a game that's so old now?
i agree a new ff game would be nice that actually plays good not just looks good, square made sprite games for handheld and thats it. a new 16 bit ff would be nice. i can live without remakes of ff7 and 10, although 10 on psn would be nice though.
I agree. Yet I think you guys had the right idea when you proposed a reboot. There should be one with new contolls, a less conplex storyline, & it shouldkeep keeping all the clasic things like sommons & chocobos. This way new people to the franchise could be welcomed to it instead of being presented to a bunch of confusing & ubsurd storylines. Im quite tired of the once stellar franchise now being in the back of the boat.
Tim, you're my new best friend! I love FF6! The cast, the story, the Espers, the music was all awesome.
I agree that the FF should be on XBLA. Is there a licensing agreement that they cannot be on XBLA or is it the hardware? You can get the old FF games on PSN. Why not XBLA?
I want to see a FF game that looks like Yoshitaka Amano's artwork. They never had the capability until now.
I've got bad news for you Tim. I've been a Final Fantasy fan since the SNES, and the biggest reason you don't see a spectacular Final Fantasy like FFVI from Square anymore is because Hironobu Sakaguchi left. He was the original creator of Final Fantasy, and the driving force behind what made the franchise so great, until he left Square roughly a decade ago (sorry, I don't know exactly when he left). Nearly everything he's worked on has been grand and fantastic, even the non-Final Fantasy titles (I'll let you search for them on your own, it'll do a youngster like you some good), and even the 'worst' of the ones by Mistwalker Studios (which he founded after leaving Square) that I've played is still on par with the work he did with Square, but what else would you expect from the man who could effectively be labeled 'The Father of the Console RPG' (or you could make that JRPG since he is Japanese, and there is now a respectable selection of non-Japanese console RPG's to choose from), and if you don't know why just look at the history of the console RPG. I haven't heard the slightest rumor of him working with Square again, not that I spend a lot of time listening for such things, but unless they work out their differences you'll never see a Final Fantasy like FFVI (16-bit or otherwise) again. Oh, and before you try saying that he isn't that big of a deal, do remember that Mistwalker was originally making 3 games for the Xbox 360, the third got canceled, and outside of the Xbox Arcade (which I haven't payed any attention to) I don't know of a single RPG for it that started development after the release of Lost Odyssey that has remained unique to the 360, and that means no PC version as well.
I couldn't agree more Tim.
I do think it's time for Square to return to its roots, that is 2d. That, however, doesn't mean that they need to go 16-bit. Looking at modern 2d games amazing artwork can be achieved (look at Echoes of Eternia on Kickstarter.com)
I totally agree with you. I've recently gotten tired with this generations hi-def graphics,(don't ask why), and I've been kicking it old school by whipping out my GBA and purchasing games from stores like BuyBacks, and refreshing my soul with some Dragon Warrior I & II, Final Fantasy I & II, Zelda, and FF Tactics. Playing these games again released unto me the true meaning of gaming (rpg wise). It's not about how good the graphics are, or cool new abilities, It's about the journey. The way you level up and learn new ways to defeat enemies. Developing newfound understanding of the plot and how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. It's about getting pwned by not being prepared. Gaming (rpg wise) about finding your soul and letting it resonate with the soul of the game. Complete indulgence.
I understand you had not previously played this game but many are ff13 beyond these ambitions and well aware of the pointlessness in influencing japanese anime culture hired developers
you know whats depressing? that no one can find a happy medium... graphics havnt killed gaming, and going back to 16-bit isnt going to revitalize it. but letting these companies focus so much on graphics as if its the only thing thats important wont help either. but of course as long as all these new age "Nerds" complain that "Such and such graphics suck its not even worth playing!" then companies are going to focus on that aspect more then anything else. My most well remembered genre in gaming is the ps2, because graphics were just on the rise. they were not the highlight of games yet, the story and gameplay was, but they were steadily getting better, not because they needed to get better but because they WANTED to get better. Then xbox 360, and ps3 come out and now its all about the shiny new sparkle effects on some androgynous anime characters eyes.