With the 16th chapter in Square Enix's flagship franchise already one month behind us, the Japanese developers appear to have their plans for the future of the franchise in order. The 17th entry won't be seen for quite some time, but we're free to imagine what that would look like.
Final Fantasy XVI was undoubtedly a game well-liked by most fans of the industry. It received high accolades and maintains one of the biggest scores on Metacritic (even after being subjected to the recent obnoxious trend of review-bombing), which is proof of the passion and dedication of all those who worked on it. It has helped re-establish the franchise's good name within the industry, despite certain daring choices by the developers to remove some of the trademark aspects of the series, such as the switch from the role-playing genre to going full-on action. Despite the inherent risks, those decisions proved to work out in their favour.
Unlike its predecessor, FF XV, which had a troubled release and needed several DLC to tell its - surprisingly touching - story, FF XVI was a cohesive, well-rounded game, with no massive flaws, that was generally well-received. It leaves behind a heavy legacy for any game that might come after it and might hope to be just as successful, if not even more so.
Final Fantasy VII Remake and the next expansions of Final Fantasy XIV are excluded from this conversation (as are any other potential remakes/remasters of previous entries) because they are reaching out to an already existing fanbase. Their selling point is nostalgia, sprinkled with a few modern-day gaming mechanics (although honestly, if I see a third-person FF IX, I think I might freak out). Any upcoming entry will need to prove that it is just as good as the games that came before it, if not better, for the extremely highly demanding gaming audience to give it even a second look.
With that in mind, here are some things that this humble writer believes should be a part of this potential new entry.
Strong story and a multitude of playable characters
Most Final Fantasy games like to talk about life's issues, how we overcome difficulties by sticking together, and all that. That's well and good if the new entry wants to go about it that way, but before it decides to make that point, it should include a massive story full of plot twists.
FF XVI felt a bit stereotypical, in that you were on your way to destroy the crystals (always with the crystals in these games...), then you fought the big bad and then it was all over. It was essentially the opposite of the original FF, but you could still feel that you could predict what was going on and how it was going to end.
FF VIII or IX, on the other hand, didn't do that. Both those games gave you the sense that the world was getting bigger and bigger the more you played them - and that's what XVII needs to do. Give you a starting point in the story, then you go on to uncover the underlying themes.
Another thing we need is the return of playable characters. Don't make this about one dude with a scruffy hairdo and have the world revolving around him. Give us a group and let us choose who we want to play as. Or better yet, let us follow all of them. Live-A-Live is a game that does this really well, as does FF VII Remake, to a point. Not to mention, a wide variety of characters will allow players to feel represented, and that's always important!
FF IX was said to be the last mainline entry with a fantasy setting before the series progressed to a more modern perspective. FF XI, XIV and now XVI all proved that statement to be false.
Since we've worn the "medieval" aspect down to its barebones (not just in Final Fantasy, but in other mainstream media such as Game of Thrones), why not take a more steampunk approach, like that in FF VI? FF VII should now be considered a modern-day entry since they're all walking around with their mobile phones and their hip sunglasses and all that.
So yeah, a full-on return to the steampunk era and the early rise of machines would be a nice switch for the franchise!
Bring back RPG elements
No, Final Fantasy does not need to be tied down to a single genre. That role had already been proven way before the arrival of FF XVI, with highly successful games such as FF Tactics (strategy), Dirge Of Cerberus (shooter), and Crisis Core (Action).
FF XVI and Square Enix's Creative Business Unit 3 didn't reinvent the wheel. They just proved that as long as a game has a good foundation (story, music, characters, etc.), then it can be good, even though it may alienate its own audience. Final Fantasy - especially the mainline titles - has always been known for having some form of connection to the role-playing genre, which is what made getting used to FF XVI so difficult for many of the older players of the franchise and it is also why the slower-RPG mode has been included in FF VII Remake.
I'm not saying to stick characters back into a line and wait for them to take turns, that would be silly - even though Persona seems to be getting away with it! But don't throw away your own legacy. Maybe FF XVII could include a system that combines the more fast-paced action with the dumbed-down RPG elements.
And for the love of all that is sacred, bring back Hiroyuki Ito! (Note: Ito is credited as the creator of the Active Time Battle, and also directed FFVI, FFIX, and FXII).
Bring back the airships
In most recent Final Fantasy games, there's usually a form of transportation that pops up (car, ship, etc.), and then, for some reason, it either disappears once you have access to the full world map or it can only go so far.
In FF XVI, you had a world map; you could go anywhere you wanted. But supposedly, Clive (the main character) either did that by boat or walking. Details, I know, but at least FF X made us believe we were flying in an airship. With all those side quests, if Clive had to go back and forth from all those places, he would've died of old age!
It's easy to see why an airship in today's open-world games might be a bit difficult. This is no longer the 16-bit era. Still, maybe a ship or something to believe that we're actually sailing or flying there... that's not too much to ask, is it?
How about no more swords?
We get it: swords are cool. Katanas and big-ass broadswords are the trademarks of masculinity. But how about letting some other options take the stage? Let a mage (potentially a white one...) or a monk or even a guy with just a bow and his arrows take the spotlight for once?
Or, you know, someone like Bartz (FF V) or the Onion Knight (FF III) who can be anything they want to be? Let's just switch it up with the sword-measuring contest.
I'm not saying they're not awesome, just that we could use a break from them.
Yes, the game should still be called Final Fantasy XVII
In the build-up to FF XVI's release, the game's producer Naoki Yoshida jokingly said that maybe future installments should think about dropping the Roman numerals because it's becoming too difficult to explain to everyone that all the previous entries aren't tied to one another.
That's a dead 'no'. The numerals are used to show that the franchise carries with it a huge legacy. And that, even though this is a brand new story, it follows a certain number of other ones which are all worth the player's attention.
Dropping the numerals would be equivalent to dropping the title itself; then it wouldn't even be Final Fantasy anymore. It would be just some random game. Who'd want to play that?
To sum it all up, Final Fantasy XVII should be a role-playing game (or at least include RPG elements) about multiple characters, none of which carry a sword, with overarching and underlying themes (which could even see us travelling to another planet, that would be cool!) that allows you to fly an airship or some kind of large vehicle once you have access to the full world map.
And it should also be called Final Fantasy XVII and nothing else.
Looking forward to seeing how much of that actually happens. Till then, we've always got Final Fantasy VII Rebirth and the next expansion to FF XIV!
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