Final Fantasy Reimagined: J-RPG+Western RPG=Awesome?

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.

Customizable Characters

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.

Open-Ended Games

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:

  1. Gamers don’t have attention spans anymore so we need to make the game more linear and flashier.
  2. If the game is flashy, people will ignore the baffling storyline (read: lightsaber fests).
  3. 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.

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Seth Stone
Seth Stone
9 years ago

I’ve never been all that impressed with the contrived storylines of role-playing video games.  Perhaps that is because I’m such a big fan of detailed, in-depth epic fantasy novels and series.  Video games are fine but I just don’t think of them as story-based so much as goal-oriented.

Reela
Reela
9 years ago

There are too many Final Fantasy games for me to keep up with the game. Do they really have that long of a story that it is necessary to make so many? I was never able to get into them. I suppose they must have done a great job in capturing their audience to make this many.

Dottier
Dottier
9 years ago

I played FF in the beginning and really enjoyed it. It was as it began to get very complicated and involved that I tired of it. Sometimes  simple and straightforward works best. I’ve never been interested in customising. I just want to get on with it!

Lyrie
Lyrie
9 years ago

I was never a big Final Fantasy fan, so it doesn’t hurt my feelings to suggest that perhaps it has run its course and it’s time to stop.  If they do decide to continue, though, changes such as more open-ended play would be interesting.

Kaylee Hammond
Kaylee Hammond
9 years ago

For me, gaming is almost always about the story more than the gameplay so I prefer to have the detail and in-depth characterizations as much as possible.  I think that’s why I really never could get into the Final Fantasy series.

Jackelynn
Jackelynn
9 years ago

Final Fantasy would be smart to wrap up their story with
this last game. The story line is still entertaining, but if they continue
coming out with more games, even hardcore fans are going to get bored. There is
no way you could do a build your own character in FF, though. I think it would
take away from the game rather than add to it.
 

Darlene
9 years ago

It’s hard to keep track of all the new techniques, characters and story-telling methods writers are using with the fantasy of today. You’ve provided enough insight for me to see a little better how to develop and work with characters.

Philip Overby
9 years ago

I think that’s the main point of my article is that they need to do something to revitalize the series.  Some people have suggested going old school, but I think that’s only a partial fix for a bigger problem.  If the story-telling continues to be confusing and the characters unrelatable, it’s going to be hard to keep the series going regardless if they go back to turn-based style.

imshott
imshott
9 years ago

I agree with your article,there needs to be a change in JRPGs ,heck square likes to experiment with the stuff they make anyway,so what could it hurt?

Jamie Gibbs
9 years ago

I never got into Final Fantasy. Turn based combat in video games really irritates me. Now Skyrim on the other hand – that thing has dominated my life. I daren’t go near the xbox anymore. I hope that someday we’ll get a good blend of eastern and western RPGs. We just need to find a visionary.

REAVER
REAVER
9 years ago

Good article, Philliam! (Yes, folks, that’s his REAL name: Philliam Gilligan Overby.) You made quite a few excellent points and I hope that some brave developer will cross that great chasm and combine Japanese & Western RPG’s.

I, for one, am awaiting with cautious optimism.

Riviera
Riviera
Reply to  REAVER
9 years ago

That’s a brilliant name, though I’m not entirely sure if you are joking or not! There definitely seems to be a lot of scope if someone did combine the two, especially in terms of game longevity.

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