With the imminent release of Final Fantasy X and X-2 for PS4, Square-Enix’s post-modern revisiting of their most beloved brand is, for the moment, complete. Marking the game’s fourth outing on PlayStation hardware, it’s safe to say that this latest iteration is currently by far and away the best place to experience both the classic story of Yuna and Tidus and its sequel.
From a gameplay point of view, this version offers no changes to the original’s template, though while you may have played them before, Final Fantasy X and X-2 have never looked or performed better. Square Enix have actually spent more time ensuring that this is the definitive version, with the game sporting fully realised HD graphics and textures, making both the main and incidental characters appear brighter, sharper and more expressive than ever, and all presented at a much more consistent frame rate than last year’s PS3 version.
The remaster’s release on current-gen though is about more than simply achieving an easy cash-grab. Whilst no games company is adverse to extra revenue, Square Enix have carefully been rebuilding faith in a brand that has lost much of its lustre in recent years.
Final Fantasy XIII is in some ways an odd place to start when looking at the decline in the brand, given that it was both the fastest selling entry in the franchise, and received plenty of positive reviews at release despite its linearity. The Fabula Nova Crystallis main-line entries in the series – XIII, XIII-2, and Lightning Returns – stumbled their way through to the close of the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 generation, with each release’s declining sales indicative of the public’s waning interest.
Some would argue that it’s in the story and the characters of the XIII era where the problem lies. Despite sporting the series’ trademark visuals and effective changes to each title’s combat system, the three games became ever-more convoluted, and clearly many saw each title as becoming more reliant on history and characters that they hadn’t remained invested in.
Final Fantasy XIV has a part to play here, both in its initial critically-panned release and in its hugely surprising revival and rehabilitation. The understanding displayed by Square Enix of its brand and of its importance to the ongoing success of the company is something that some developers and publishers would do well to take note of, with XIV’s return as A Realm Reborn showcasing a company that is willing to acknowledge its mistakes and atone for them. Arguably, Final Fantasy XIV’s reworking was something that Square Enix had to do, for fear of irreparably damaging the brand forever, but to do so with the level of attention to detail and success is admirable.
Square’s genuine awareness of the brand’s diminishing returns saw them returning to the franchise’s past in order to secure its future. With the original remaster of Final Fantasy X and X-2, they allowed younger gamers to experience one of the true highlight’s of the series, while those of us old enough to have played it the first time around were allowed to indulge in our own nostalgia. Crucially it caused gamers around the world to remember why the Final Fantasy brand remains so alluring. The PS4 rendition only cements this, offering the ultimate version for fans.
The next step in the series’ rehabilitation was the remastering of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, a formally Japanese-only PSP exclusive. For some an odd choice, particularly given the clamouring of fans keen for a reworked version of Final Fantasy VII, but indicative of where the franchise is moving. For one, it was a well-received title that had never made it to the West, and for another it was an entry in the Fabula Nova Crystallis mythology, placing it alongside both the XIII universe and the forthcoming XV.
The link with XV is crucial, as Square Enix will be hoping that their improvements to the brand’s image will pay dividends when the new title reaches release. Type-0 HD’s more action-orientated combat system sports a great deal of commonality with that seen in XV’s Episode Duscae, and will prepare gamers for what they can expect.
It certainly helps that Type-0 HD is a very enjoyable game, though its own convoluted storyline may not entirely tick the boxes for fans of the epic tales of Cloud, Tidus or Squall. The fact that Square-Enix packaged Type-0 HD with XV’s demo was both a savvy marketing ploy and a statement of intent, and it’s interesting that recent news saw that over 80% of survey respondents stated that they only bought Type-0 HD in order to play Episode Duscae.
It goes to show that there is clearly still desire for the next entry in the franchise, when people are willing to buy an entire title just for a demo, but Square-Enix shouldn’t be ready to rest on their laurels quite yet with the taster of XV raising a number of concerns alongside its positives. While the incredible visuals, courtesy of the Luminous engine, set a new benchmark for Final Fantasy, the boys-own adventure set-up and faux-attitude may still prove a sticking point for many.
It would seem that they’re aware of these, and of the importance of their next entry in what is their most profitable franchise. Episode Duscae has already been promised a patch to improve performance, something almost unheard of for a demo, and they’ve also already promised to tackle wider ranging issues for the final release of XV from voice-acting to the representation of women.
Final Fantasy has been at the forefront of both role-playing games, and gaming in general, for many years, and while recent missteps, from disappointing mainline entries to mobile releases unworthy of the brand, have caused faith in the series to waver, it seems that Square Enix are a company willing to do everything possible to ensure its continued success.