Sunday, May 17, 2009

As I mature, Final Fantasy will not

Final Fantasy is one of my favorite gaming franchises of all time. I first started playing the series with the original release on the NES, back in 1990, and I have picked up every major release since. Nostalgia is definitely a strong component of my love for the series. The other major reason for my continued interest is SquareEnix's drive to innovate a long running series while concurrently amping up their production values, world density, and storytelling prowess with each release. The short reason for why I love this series is that Final Fantasy and "high quality role playing game" are almost interchangeable terms to me. I'm eagerly looking forward to the next major console release of the series, but I am concerned by recent comments made from the series director.

In a recent piece on Edge Online, Final Fantasy 13 Director Yoshinori Kitase says "'I actually think that it’s a very natural thing for players to grow out of the Final Fantasy series...In terms of the age group we target with each new game, it remains the teens to 20-somethings." He goes on to mention that while members of the team grow older, they feel that it is important to create games for their core demographic. One of their nods to the aging creators and the long running fans is the increasing prevalence with which older characters find their way into new entries in the series.

While adding older characters is a nice gesture, I feel that the series will lose its appeal with both older and younger generations if it does not grow up with its fans. In years past, technology moved so fast that players young and old put up with narratives that didn't resonate because they were excited about the ever increasing fidelity of worlds they were able to explore. As computing and graphics technology in games begins to plateau, players will be looking for a richer palette of characters and stories to define the role playing games they play. Fortunately, with the growing number of formerly PC-centric companies such as Bethesda and Bioware building mature console games now, players will have more options. Nevertheless, I don't want to leave the unique style of SquareEnix behind. I hope that the storytellers in our industry can look to the storytelling techniques of places like Pixar to bridge the gap between young and old. Each Pixar movie amazes me with its rich worlds, interesting characters, and almost universal appeal across gender and age groups. Please, Mr. Kitase, don't leave me behind.