Some complain that these Western games all follow the same tired tropes of fantasy though. Generic monsters, a world that needs to be saved, variations of the same classes and skills.
I personally love both types of games, so I wonder what they’d be like if combined? Would they be like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup? Or more like a fried pickle sundae?
In regards to possible complaints from both sides of the pond, I’d like to propose a type of game that would appeal to both types of fantasy gamers.
Gamers love to customize their characters. What if a J-RPG employed more of this style? With all the wacky and strange Japanese styles and designs that go into the Square Enix titles, having the ability to essentially make your own FF character(s) would have huge resonance. Sure, you can do this in the online versions (FFXI and XIV), but imagine having a game like FFVI — widely regarded as one of the best in the series — with a customizable cast of characters for next-gen systems. Think of how Mass Effect and Dragon Age have used voice acting for male and female characters and transfer that onto a customizable FF cast.
This feature could pull in those who have lost faith in FF titles for their lack of customization (and no, changing outfits isn’t enough.) I’ve thought the Job system employed in several of the titles has made customization possible as far as your game-play goes, but there’s been little in the way of changing a character’s image.
What if there was even a way to create your own summons? Plenty of fighting games have employed Create-A-Character modes. If I could create my own summons, then I could blast my enemies with whatever I wanted, not just the same Mega Flare and Diamond Dust (although they are awesome). Think of the possibilities!
Storytelling that Appeals to a Wider Base
Let’s go ahead and say it. Final Fantasy recently has had some of the weirdest, most convoluted story-lines in all of gaming. Around FFX is about when it started with its gods and cycle of destruction talk. FFXIII most recently has joined the list of rather confusing storyline of fighting god-like creatures in a race against time before they change into crystals or some kind of bizarre zombie creatures. Huh?
And while some Western games have been praised for their storytelling, honestly they can only do so much with open-ended worlds. Skyrim for instance is quite open-ended and has pretty solid story-telling, but it’s not setting the world on fire by any means. I think most people rave about Skyrim for the sheer amount of content available, not so much its relatively by-the-numbers main storyline (Captain Obvious spoilers ahead: hero discovers power, hero must stop evil force, hero stops evil force).
I would argue that some of the earlier FF titles had some of the best story-telling in all of RPGs, namely IV, VI, VII, and IX. These games had relatively simple yet engrossing story-lines. Redemption, bravery, betrayal, true love. These are easier themes to grasp. While FFVII is most often considered the mainstream breakthrough for RPGs world-wide, I think Knights of the Old Republic was probably the most popular game that gave players a choice: good or evil.
Imagine the possibilities in a FF game. What if your characters don’t want to save the world? What if they want to destroy it? What if they want to just explore it, without interest in global happenings. I think that if the story were to lend itself more to the player’s choices instead of following one predetermined script, interest in a game like FF would skyrocket. This has somewhat been implemented in the newest game FFXII-2 so maybe it’s a sign to come?
Build Your Characters
Skyrim allows you to build your characters based on what abilities you use. If a game like FF could do that, characters could be crafted into whatever type of party you’d like. Think back to FFI, when the player was able to make a whole party of Fighters if they wished. Dragon Age doesn’t really allow you to do that. You’re given your wizard, warrior, and rogue party members and then you have to customize them within the limits of their class. FFXIII implemented that some with the Paradigm System, but you had to keep your characters pretty balanced if you planned on beating the game.
Having a party with whomever you wanted, however you wanted them built, would vastly improve the J-RPG formula. Imagine being able to create parties similar to past games. I’d go with a Fighter, Monk, White Mage, and Black Mage combo, thank you. With voice acting and branching story-lines, the players would grow more attached to their characters who they built from scratch (as is the case in Skyrim). Capcom’s upcoming game Dragon’s Dogma seems to be employing this to an extent, so I’m interested to see how that game turns out.
Lots of RPGs are lauded for their open-ended worlds, most recently the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series. Gamers want to get the most bang for their buck, so to speak. Having a game that could feasibly continue forever would be incredible. Much like World of Warcraft that offers expansions to their ever-growing world, imagine a FF game that wasn’t “final.” Expansions to the game world, new characters introduced, new story-lines to explore. In this day in age of gaming, it’s entirely possible.
If the development team was steadily working on new content for one game, the players would be more willing to pay for the next game in the series. For $60-70 for a new game, the gaming industry really needs to put all their cards on the table if they want to keep gamers loyal to their franchises. Final Fantasy and Dragon Age are two franchises which started off as awesome but have since experienced decline. Dragon Age III has promised to be better and FFXV is still a mystery.
By creating a world with loads of places to explore and people to meet, the game won’t feel stale quite as easily. I don’t mean just featuring loads of downloadable content (which annoys me to no end, but that’s a story for another day). I mean full-blown expansions such as Oblivion, Fallout, and Dragon Age have done.
Bring Back Old Fans, Bring In New Fans
I think some of the newer FF games such as FFXII and FFXIII were an attempt to market FF to newer gamers. They utilized insane graphics, MMO-style combat, and simpler dynamics to try to appeal to a dwindling fan-base of turn-based RPGs. I personally liked FFXIII’s style but to me it was like Star Wars prequels of FF games. It seemed as if the developers thought three things:
- Gamers don’t have attention spans anymore so we need to make the game more linear and flashier.
- If the game is flashy, people will ignore the baffling storyline (read: lightsaber fests).
- We need to get newer fans because people aren’t interested in the old turn-based style as much.
I would say that they were mostly wrong on all three levels. Sure, Square Enix always takes enormous risks on each new game that they make. They are potentially alienating their core fan-base by introducing innovative combat systems and increasingly more science fantasy style worlds. Sometimes people don’t want innovative combat systems. They just want what they recognize.
So, bring back a more strategic form of combat. Bring back a simpler, fantasy-based story like FFIX. Hero tries to save princess and the world. Sounds generic, but it was simple and effective. They can have the simpler story-lines, but use the flashiness to keep the attention span of more casual gamers. Keep the crazy summons and tutorials for those new to the genre. FFVII probably utilized this method the best. They kept the game in its turn-based roots, but gave it a flashier presentation.
Implement some of these Western trends such as character customization, voice acting for your character that YOU made, more open-ended game-play. Couple that with the elements that made past FFs great and we could see a surge of interest in FF again.
J-RPG+Western RPG=Awesome? Who knows, but I think it would be.
What do you think? Do you agree or have another vision? Share your thoughts below and happy gaming!
You can find Phil’s blog about Japan, writing, pro wrestling, and weird stuff at philipoverby1.blogspot.com.