Thursday, 26 December 2013

the emperor's old clothes

Since the release of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII in Japan, there has been a lot of noise made about its costume editor ; the ability to modify your player's in game clothing and appearance. For some, it's the ultimate time-waster, while for others, as a recent website commenter (Lynzxer) put it, "All I've read about this game is costumes, costumes, costumes. If I wanted to play dress up I'd get a damn Barbie. Goodbye final fantasy"

But even more noise was made when Square Enix, the game's developer, accidentally released the limited offer Aerith (FFVII) costume DLC to all owners of the game, regardless of whether they qualified for the content or not. While it seems like a small issue, there is a louder rumble underlying all this noise. A rumble about the franchise itself.

The Aerith costume DLC for "Lighting Returns: Final Fantasy XIII" 
For those of us who will probably buy the new title regardless of its quality or any DLC technical faults, such as this, there's also another concern. Releasing the Aerith DLC seems like a concession for a developer who have resisted at every turn the remake of FFVII for modern platforms, despite the years of agitation. While I will write about this at some hazy future point, my own feelings are that I would not welcome such a remake. The short version is that I like FFVII as it is, warts and all (and there aren't many warts, let's be honest). However, the DLC has opened up a bigger can of worms than the probably impossible remake ; that fans are simply not happy with the creative direction which Square Enix has taken with many of its recent games. Its online FFXIV has caused numerous headaches and disappointments, while there remains a deeply sectarian divide among FF fans about the merits (or demerits) of FFXIII and its sequels.

While the DLC does not, I think, presage the remake of the classic FFVII, its mis-release has re-opened many lingering concerns about the franchise by fans - an issue about the urge to drive the game back to its roots, while making the most of the capabilities of the new XBOX One and PS4 systems.

As a long-time FF fan - I'm currently playing and planning a review for the very smart and fun remake of FFIII -, there is an ominous question mark surrounding Final Fantasy XV, if that is to be the next single player iteration of the series. And yet, the costume element that is so enraging some players has a certain intrinsic appeal, and so it is easy to understand why the developers are providing it - arguably, it harks back to the early FF game mechanic of job changing ; of the ability to tinker around with the roles and competencies of your party in the longer flow of the game (rather than the mid-battle "paradigm" shifts of FFXIII and its sequels).

The question, for me at least, is whether - if at all - future installments of the game will reach into the heritage of the series in other ways, beyond its costumes and weapons - beyond elements that are, for now, only aesthetic. Will we see a revisiting of old worlds, past characters, story mechanics, or gameplay devices? (Personally, I'm anticipating, perhaps naively, hopefully, a return to the magic junctioning of FFVIII).

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