I don’t like the word “hate.” It’s a harsh term that really should be relegated to legitimate things to actually hate, not a video game, movie, or an undercooked burrito. Initially I was going to say “How I came to hate Final Fantasy.” But I don’t hate it. I should, but I don’t. Instead, I’ve come to resent it: a far more fitting descriptor because in one word you address a disdain in a way that simultaneously shows you may still have feelings about a significant other that cheated on you. That and “apathy,” perhaps, but with apathy that implies I don’t care. I do care, hence the resentment of Final Fantasy trying damn hard to make me hate it.
On top of that, it’s not even so much Final Fantasy that I’ve grown disappointed and resentful towards as much as its developer Square Enix, formerly Squaresoft, formerly a good company and formerly my favorite videogame company. I can’t hate them either, but again, I should. Why?
Square hasn’t been my favorite developer for at least a decade. I knew I couldn’t defend them any longer despite my desire to years ago on message boards and carrying the torch as an apologist the moment they started planning sequels making Final Fantasy titles sound like an algebra equation. Even after the development issues of countless games, talent leaving the company left and right and an overall lack of understanding their sense of superiority was clouding their judgment, I still tried to stick by them and the franchise that I grew up with. But it stopped. It had to. I couldn’t go through it anymore. There was no longer a firm ground to stand on because that ground turned in to a sinkhole made by Square Enix itself.
On occasion, Square Enix does a good job of cropping up in to view and showing what they’re working on and doing, kind of like a parent who’ll give you a call to talk about what’s going on with the family and some distant cousin you barely remember. What I see is them cropping up and just reminding me how much I used to love Final Fantasy and what that name used to actually mean.
Well, that certainly answers the “why?” The problem is, that should have never happened in the first place.
LOVE AT SECOND SIGHT
It’s easy to forget just how dominant of a game developer Squaresoft once was. For a time there, they were putting out a huge quantity of games and damn-near every one of them good to great titles. Hell, even the games I personally didn’t like were so well polished that it’s still hard to deny their quality, at least on a creative and artistic level.
I first played Final Fantasy on the NES briefly in the late 1980s. I preferred Dragon Warrior at the time, and I preferred platformers over all of that, but it stuck with me as the soft-glow from the TV bouncing across a dark bedroom is still a vivid memory. For some reason I thought having all warriors made sense because I had no idea what a “mage” was…what can I say I was nine.
It wasn’t until Final Fantasy II on the Super Nintendo that I began to really take notice of those types games, though. I had an idea what they were, lots of numbers and waiting and story were all I could use to classify them, but never really sat down to get in to these new types of games. That’s going to be a continuing trend here: age. The older I got, the more I began to get in to different things…and eventually lose my love for them.
Above: Japanese RPGs had always been around, but only until Final Fantasy II on the SNES did I start to notice. After that, everything changed.
Final Fantasy II happened a bit randomly. I was looking to “change up” what I was playing and happened to really start getting in to the Legend of Zelda style games, Secret of Mana also being a part of that transition at the time. With that door opened, Final Fantasy II came in and was the kick-off of everything from that point forward. Anything Squaresoft put out on the Super Nintendo, I bought, played, loved and cherished. Final Fantasy II had already shown me a great sense of “epic” storytelling, Final Fantasy III expanded that and added in an emotional level I certainly had never seen before in a videogame and Chrono Trigger was so completely fresh and new that it changed my expectations of what a video game could and could not do. I educated myself on these games, these “Japanese Role Playing Games (JRPGS)” and began to do my own reading and research well before the luxury of a Wikipedia on what these games were and who made them. I saved my allowances, hunted down copies all around town or rented excessively every one I could find if I couldn’t find it to buy, or in some cases convince a store owner to sell me the rental copy. I did it for years. I did it without question.
I still do cherish a lot of those games. They’re a reminder of how easy it is to really fall in love with something, in some cases make a personal connection to, and how even easier it is we take them for granted. We think they are things like them will be around forever, but that’s never the case.
The PlayStation was even more prolific for Square. I made my console purchasing decision solely on the fact that that Final Fantasy VII was not going to be on a Nintendo system, again all that reading and research helped. That’s how much they had me in their pocket: to make me give up the “other” videogame brand I loved and going with an unknown console in favor of them. It also showed how damn good they were, because I wasn’t the only one that took notice when a major brand was suddenly having a “PlayStation” logo appear at the end of its commercials. It was everywhere during that era, and the fact that Nintendo having “lost” Final Fantasy being well known in those dial-up days, being “everywhere” was a big deal. Final Fantasy and Square were at the top of the heap. You knew you were going to get something special and something that would take you to a great new place with characters and stories you could fall in love with. Square expanded their brand even further, throwing out other games like Bushido Blade and Final Fantasy Tactics and Xenogears and Vagrant Story. They kept their franchises alive and well and still had the talent and resources to do even more on the PlayStation.
But that was the last we really heard of them in that “idol-worshipping” idea. When people think of “greatness” in the video game world, the mid to late 1990s Squaresoft is probably the first thing that comes in to their minds. I know it does mine, not just because I was such a fan but because enough time has passed and the books are written at this point: they were good…once.
Above: Spirits Within flopping or not, Final Fantasy founder Hironobu Sakaguchi left (or some say was forced out of) Square in 2003. Square’s stock capital dropped as well as their proficiency in game releases. They’ve been floundering ever since with company restructuring. You lose a hall of famer, you lose the rock your company is founded on. Plus, check out that rockin’ surfer bod.
When I think of Square, I think of that time. They were a developer that could do just about anything it wanted and do it well. Everything after that is painful. Agonizing, actually. It’s like finding out your favorite sports hero was on steroids the whole time, had to be forced off it and now is mopping up his career in the minor leagues. It’s easy to assume it’s just nostalgia. “Oh, you just like the old games, your nostalgia’s blinding you.”
Listen, if you actually think that the business model of Square Enix today is better than what they were ten to fifteen years ago, then I don’t know what to tell you. You probably think that losing a figurehead like Hironobu Sakaguchi is a good thing as well when, in reality, it’s obvious Square has had a lack of leadership ever since. Their stock continually drops along with their net profit and they just restructured their company, yet again mind you, this past year because even they know they’re slowly prepping a noose. That’s not nostalgia. That’s fact. That’s reflective of a floundering company that only released four internally developed, original console titles in the longest generation of gaming: Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIII-2 (alongside Tri-Ace), Final Fantasy XIV, The Last Remnant and Final Fantasy Lightning Returns soon coming.
But when did it really start? Was this resentment like a pot waiting to boil over? I think everyone has their own personal realization that their once-favorite thing was no more. This was mine.