Let me start off by saying that this doesn’t have to do with the specifics of the Xbox One. It also doesn’t have to do with Final Fantasy IX in particular.
For me, this is more a post about the direction that gaming has gone in the past decade or so, culminating (so far) in the unveiling of the Xbox One.
There are a lot of great things that have happened in the past decade of gaming – Hardware technology has increased to an insane degree, giving us almost-real graphics (FFVII and FFXIII were released only 13 years apart; 13 years before VII, the best-selling game was Duck Hunt), and eliminating the need for memory cards (Can I emphasize how awesome this is for a moment? I remember I had SIX memory cards for my PlayStation at one point. Six. Being the messy person I am, a mini-“ohmygodwherethehellaremymemorycardsshitshitshit”-heart attack was pretty much a given every time I wanted to go back to a game I hadn’t played in a while). Thanks to the meteoric rise of the Internet, multiplayer gaming has reached nearly everyone with access to a game console (I’m a Vermonter with shitty DSL, so for me, it’s not quite there yet, but most other people are fine). Technologically speaking, gaming has never been more advanced, and the community has never been tighter (I could talk forever about the evolution of the community, but I don’t have time at the moment, so I’ll sum it up in five words: Steam. Xbox Live. PlayStation Network).
However, there’s something to be said for the simpler technology of the days of, say, the PlayStation. Everything was so simple; you bought the game, brought it home, popped the disc in the tray, and turned the system on. It was done; you were playing. You didn’t have to connect to the internet, sign up for an account, or enter an activation code. Obviously, systems can do more now, and the Home and Menu screens allow us to do other cool stuff, like watch movies and surf the web. I’m just wondering at what price this stuff comes.
I’m going to stop before this turns into one of those “Back in the good ol’ days” posts. It isn’t meant to be that. However, it was definitely on my mind when I saw the Xbox One released.
On a side note, that system looks tragic. Almost as tragic as Nintendo not going to E3 this year. Idiots.
One of my friends posted something very interesting to my Facebook the other day: a link to some “lost” Final Fantasy IX artwork. I’ve owned The Art of Final Fantasy IX for years, so when I saw the link, my first thought was “yeah, okay, but I’ve definitely seen this before”.
My jaw dropped. There were about 100 pictures here that I had never seen before, all in a resolution about three times what the original PlayStation disc could handle. As Mama Robotnik, the author of the above forum post, said, “The ‘lost art’ referenced in the thread title isn’t meant to describe this content as having been lost and found – it refers to the art details that were lost when the graphics were downconverted to a limited 32-bit console”.
Needless to say, I was amazed. After purely enjoying the artwork for a while, a thought popped into my head: if they’ve got these really high-resolution backgrounds already, that must make it easier to craft a remake, should they choose to do so. They’ve already got a bunch of great work already set up for them, for cryin’ out loud! So why won’t they do it?
At first, I was against a remake of FFIX; I thought that the original was perfect, and that they needn’t do anything else. However, when I watched Yu Yu Hakusho, my favorite anime, in 1080p Blu Ray, I realized that making things look prettier given newer technology could, if not increase my enjoyment, give me another, more detailed look at exactly what the artists were going for when they created the work.
Against: Final Fantasy VII Fans are Mad Enough
Seriously, though. They thought they were getting a PS3 makeover for the franchise’s most popular game years ago. Square Enix has said that they won’t remake it until they make a new title that surpasses the original, both in sales and in quality (see this GameSpot article, if you haven’t heard this already).
Look, Square Enix: it’s just not going to happen.
It’s a vicious cycle: basically, they’re trying to make a game that is so good that it will make people forget about VII as being considered “the best”. However, people can’t get the idea of a VII remake out of their heads. They won’t give Square Enix a chance until it’s done. Look, Square Enix, it’s not all your fault that you won’t make a game that’s better; it’s equally the fault of the gaming community for being really bad at looking at new games in the same nostalgic light of the old classics that they hold so dear. That’s just a part of human nature, though, I think – there’s a reason they’re called “the good old days”. Part of business is learning when to stretch for something new, and when to shut up and give your diehard fans the content they have waited so patiently for. I don’t think Square Enix has learned that yet.
So yeah, they won’t remake VII… But they’re remaking FFX in HD, which was already made with quite-sexy PS2 graphics. Way sexier than “the-first-PS1-FF” graphics, for sure. They’ve remade I and II for the GBA, and III and IV for the DS. I just get the feeling that if they remake any more Final Fantasy titles before FFVII, there will be pitchforks sharpened and torches lit. Even I, who thinks that FFIX is one of the greatest pieces of media ever created, far more philosophically and artistically intriguing than VII, am waiting impatiently for Square Enix to remove their craniums from their posteriors.
I think I can sum up most everyone’s opinion on this with three simple words:
God dammit, Squeenix. (Cute nickname, right?)
For: It Will Remind Square Enix About What Squaresoft was Doing Right
This may be a bit of a radical opinion, but I honestly think that if the next FF were released without the use of voice actors, the overall opinion on the quality of the game would rise. I’m not going to spend much time on defending myself here; just check out Ian’s blog post, “Hearing Voices”, and you’ll basically have an idea of what my argument is behind this.
I think that, recently, Final Fantasy has gone the way of most game companies, focusing more and more on realism – real-looking people, dynamically-rendered, interactive worlds, and the like.
Realism. When the title of the game is Final Fantasy.
I feel like they’ll get the idea when they’re in the middle of an HD makeover for, say, Hippaul.
Final Fantasy IX, like most of the great Final Fantasy titles before it, has an expansive, colorful world. There were many different, non-human races that looked distinctly fantastical (again, Hippaul). Even the main characters aren’t supposed to look real; they’re chibi to the max, and I love it. There was always something new to discover, to explore. By the third disc, you’re basically let loose, able to take care of most side quests, etc. in the game. No more rails. The game designers had enough faith in your intelligence to let you go do your own thing, make your own mistakes and get out of them. This is getting ever rarer in the big-name game companies, and it’s something that they could take a lesson in if they look at their old games.
Against: Square Enix Has to Let People Know that They Can Craft Good Games
Personally, I enjoyed FFX:2 (I will understand if you stop reading now). FFXII was a solid game, to the point of MetaCritic giving it a 92 out of 100, which is equal to FFVII’s score. However, it was nowhere near as popular as VII was (to the chagrin of many a XII fan). There was one thing that VII had more of than most other FF titles: a giant North American marketing campaign. I don’t ever remember seeing any pre-release brouhaha for XII. While it proves that Squeenix can make a solid game, they need to promote it more. A remake of FFIX now could create the image that all they’re good for is remaking the games of their predecessors, basically admitting defeat and saying they can’t surpass the classics.
My Opinion: If You’re Gonna Use It, Keep It; If Not, Give It to Someone Who Will
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that characters from FFIX have been used only a handful of times since its release (Zidane/Kuja in Dissidia; Zidane in Theatrhythm; Vivi in KH2 are the ones I can think of immediately). Because VII is still making money off of its spin-offs and movies and such, keep those rights; however, if you’re not gonna use the characters, art, etc. from other franchises… why not give these to the public? FFIX may not be popular enough to make much money off of anymore, but from my experience, it has a cult-like following of rabidly dedicated players who would love to sink their teeth into community-made remakes/sequels/etc. While unrealistic, I think that would be a great thing for Squeenix to do. Even if it’s just the engine. Look what happened when Valve released Source SDK: it spawned some of the best games of the past decade.
Like the people waiting for a VII remake, however, I won’t hold my breath.
Questions? Comments? Opinions? Put ’em in the comments!
The following post is from Ross, our newest contributor. Yay Ross! Thanks for contributing!
Oh, to be ten again, sliding that first black-bottomed disc into the tray and staring agape at the vast, panning shots of sky kingdoms and wild lands, all overlayed with a sepia map in scrawled letters. This wasn’t the world of Midgar or Balamb, this was Final Fantasy IX. For the first time on the Playstation, Final Fantasy actually felt like fantasy. Now, why should that matter, you might ask (if you like asking boring questions). Gladius or gunblade, black mage or medic, what’s the diff? Well, we don’t need to know how swords and spells work in order to believe in them, we don’t need a schematic or manual attached to every item in the weapon store. We just accept them. In the long tradition of theatre, Final Fantasy IX asks us to take its props and scenery on faith so that it can spend time convincing us the characters are real. And that’s a task I envy less than fighting Ozma with a Butterfly Sword. With characters like the androgynous swamp chef Quina and the knight sporting enough eye liner to shame Johnny Depp, the game has no interest in identifying with the player superficially. No, like old Will Shakespeare, Final Fantasy IX makes us understand its characters by adopting their perspectives and suffering their hardships as we do our own.
The game opens (more or less) on a stage, with our would-be hero Zidane and his theatre troupe pulling off their daring princess caper by way of a ham-fisted performance. Now, maybe their play doesn’t “catch the conscience of the king,” but it gets the job done, and it sets the game’s tone immediately. From the very first curtain raised to the final on-stage reunion between Zidane and Garnet,Final Fantasy IX is marked all over with the trappings of theatre. Our world is Elizabethan and then some, with flourishing merchant districts, regal fanfares, and mannerisms that polite company dictates I call “courtly.” Magic rules this world, but like Shakespeare’s Prospero, we catch glimpses of a modern future in the airships of Alexandria and in our dear Vivi, a mage by desire, but machine by design. And like the Elizabethan custom of men playing women or the Bard’s further fondness for cross-dressing plots, Final Fantasy IX changes wardrobes faster than Superman. Regent Cid takes an early turn as a frog, Princess Garnet trades in her precious name for a more jagged title as the runaway Dagger, Steiner and Freya join up as soldiers-cum-infidels, and even General Beatrix fights our heroes fiercely before joining them.
Alright, that’s a lot, I know, but there’s a reason the game earns more recognition than every other JRPG with a character list longer than its credit roll, and it’s the same reason Shakespeare’s characters survive so long after their creation.
Among the more curious talents of English literature’s golden child is his so-called “negative capability,” his quality of understanding perspectives different from his own and making them relatable (which is no small feat, as any victim of Metroid: Other M can attest). To write in such a way that the audience or players can sympathize with a character, even when they’re wrong, or ignorant, or downright silly is a rare skill, and it depends on subjectivity to be successful.Romeo and Juliet can swing from heartbreaking tragedy to cutting satire depending on how an actor reads his lines. And in this, Ian’s point on voice acting proves true: without audible dialogue, players can interpret words anyway they so choose. Shakespeare and Final Fantasy IX live not in their plots — which often trade in winding stories and stereotypes — but in their characters. Our heroes don’t fight an evil corporation or a corrupt religious order; the game’s greatest foe is Zidane’s genetic twin, essentially his own prototype. The struggles of Final Fintasy IX are timeless because they’re our own struggles, and we only realize this after playing each character, after becoming the Shakespeare of the TV screen. So don’t fret the next time you get weepy at the scene in Black Mage Village or find yourself thinking in Quina’s philosophy of “things you can eat and things you cannot eat.” It just means you’re playing the game right.