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Final Fantasy Versus The West

Final Fantasy XIII releases next Tuesday. I’ve been waiting patiently to play this game since its announcement 14 years ago (give or take a year or a decade). When it was announced as a PlayStation 3 exclusive, many journalists, myself included, wrote that Final Fantasy XIII could be the game that gives Sony the edge in the console war. When Square Enix stripped the exclusivity away with the surprising announcement of an Xbox 360 version, the scales tipped back in favor of Microsoft’s Xbox 360. Yet, here on the eve of Final Fantasy XIII’s launch, I’m not hearing the buzz of a generation defining game. I hardly hear a buzz at all.

It feels like just yesterday when I stood in line with hundreds of die-hard Final Fantasy fans eager to get their hands on Final Fantasy X. For the last week, I’ve searched for friends willing to join me at Final Fantasy XIII’s midnight launch. No takers.

After declining my invitation, I asked these people if they intended to play Final Fantasy XIII. The responses were surprisingly negative. A handful of people said they purchased Final Fantasy XII and never finished it. From this, they were reluctant to try out the next installment. Another group of people said that their pallet for RPGs chanced when they played Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Fallout 3, and Mass Effect – making it nearly impossible to go back to a traditional JRPG. Some said that the trailers did little to evoke excitement, going as far to say it looks “boring.”

The tonality of these responses reminded me of when I asked my friends if they were going to pick up Tomb Raider 3. The underlying sentiment for both franchises is that the ship has set sail.

From what we’ve seen of this generation’s role-playing games, western developers are pushing the genre forward, whereas Japanese developers are content with iterating on tradition. Neither development philosophy is better than the other. I’m just as excited to play a JRPG as I am a western RPG. The difference I’ve found is that most JRPGs deliver familiar packages. They’re born of a pre-existing mold. Western RPGs are exploring uncharted territory – often aligning themselves with other genres just as much as they are RPG fundamentals. The choice boils down to nostalgia versus innovation.

I can understand where my friends are coming from…to a certain extent. The allure of something new will always be stronger than familiarity. But to write off Final Fantasy because it holds onto the past seems unfair to me. I don’t want Final Fantasy to change. I like Final Fantasy the way it is. If George Lucas changed his vision for Star Wa…wait…. If Electronic Arts decided to turn the next Madden football game into a first-person sports simulation, it wouldn’t be Madden any more. If Nintendo changed Zelda into a Fallout clone, it wouldn’t be Zelda.

Tradition is what Final Fantasy is. Tradition is what has me counting the days until Final Fantasy XIII’s release. I can’t blame my friends for latching onto Fallout, Dragon Age, World of Warcraft, or Borderlands. With all of these great games to play, the industry is experiencing a role-playing renaissance. Final Fantasy is the old guard in this exciting time. I’m not going to judge it because it’s holding true to its past. It deserves a fair shot just like every other RPG.

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