Square Enix won’t hold back at all on the run-up to Final Fantasy XV, but history does not bode them a guaranteed return.
Final Fantasy Uncovered brought the house down with multiple announcements that filled the next six months with digestible, in-universe content. No, literally, it brought the house down. The appliances were all sold off beforehand, the antiques the same to collectors, even the car in the driveway went to the neighbor; the wood, insulation, roofing materials, and copper wiring all went as well. The basement was filled in – after being emptied of valuables – with cement just after the bulldozer came through and crushed away the husk of invalid throwaways that remained. All that was left was a few family keepsakes and the result of so much selling and spending, to which this gambling company will hold tightly for the duration: a lottery ticket.
Square Enix has bet the farm and then some on the next installment of Final Fantasy, stretching to an extent never before seen. Consider the stage alone, the platform beneath the feet of last night’s co-hosts, Greg Miller and Tim Gettys: A grandiose waving of valuables in front of an excited live audience that came complete with Sean Bean, Aaron Paul, and the leader of Final Fantasy XV himself Hajime Tabata. That’s took a large chunk of change to put together.
Don’t forget that this game is a result of a preceding decade’s worth of existence in two different forms, and evolution inside the industry itself over that time. Final Fantasy Versus XIII was XV’s birth name back in 2006 when it made a trailer debut at the E3 of that year. Afterwards, it didn’t receive much more than lip service from Square Enix much in the way of The Last Guardian was treated with Sony until recently. Still, Tabata confirmed that Versus XIII was “20 to 25 percent” complete when it made the hard turn into XV, dumping the majority of assets, lore, and characters for this brand new setting. That’s also a lot of money.
Which swings back around to last night where a full-length movie called Kingsglaive, an episodic anime (with the first episode already live), a mobile game, a new demo for everyone, two special editions, and a partnership with Audi were all announced. That really does sound like everything Square Enix could muster – literally their entire house – thrown into one presentation for their most popular series.
Most popular, but not popular compared to other games in other genres for this apparent price tag. The highest selling Final Fantasy stands as VII at a little over 9 million units for the original PlayStation, not counting re-releases, on an adjusted budget of $214 million. If you want to go entries that were multi-platform at launch, then you’ll have to compare with XIII that topped about 7.5 million sold across Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 ($72 million budget at least). Meanwhile, Call of Duty has a similar hype machine spinning yearly, but also has 11 single-console entries with more units sold than Final Fantasy VII, including perennial sheep-dog Ghosts twice. While these games reside in different genres, their approaches, including a full-fledged announcement event, are similar with one having a proven revenue history for that level of attention that the other doesn’t.
Final Fantasy VII on top seems fitting as, in addition to being seen as the best Final Fantasy by many, that’s also the last time that Square Enix really pushed the universe outside of the game. Advent Children was rumored to do quite well for the company on the back of Cloud, Sephiroth and the well-liked cast of characters, but that movie came out well after the game had shipped and sold plenty. Kingsglaive will likely come after the introductory anime is wrapped up, but that’s not the same as locking into these characters for 80+ hours in a game setting that includes leveling, emotional connections, and goofy moments you have a say in. Add this to all of what’s been presented and you can feel in the pit of your stomach that these subtractions could easily add up to the most expensive Final Fantasy to date without anything but pre-orders – about 100,000 – to present as a financial parachute of any kind.
And look, this isn’t a condemnation of Square Enix or their ability to market. This is an account of hurdles in their way to making Final Fantasy XV lucrative enough for them that they don’t consider the unthinkable, which here would be either miniaturizing, or not innovating, in Final Fantasy anymore. Innovation, or lack thereof, has been the pulse of this series, and disturbing that rhythm could take one of the best RPG licenses in the land in a very different direction should this release fizzle.
Which leads to probably the largest hurdle for Square Enix and Final Fantasy XV to overcome: the stain of the preceding XIII trio of titles. As someone that loves Final Fantasy X and finds XII enjoyable enough, the original XIII garnered hardly any interest from me at release. As time went on, the mass populace seemed to feel like following in my footsteps with lame story, grating characters, uninteresting summons, and even the world seeming unnecessarily barred for passage, and very little seemed to improve for XIII-2. Lightning Returns, however bright a spot it may have been, still dealt with the same characters that not many people found enjoyable, not resolving the problem but simply dancing around it.
Whether Square Enix agrees with these assessments is no longer relevant because of the stakes for the company, but for what it’s worth, they seem to have heard the complaints and are angling appropriately. There was no mention of Lightning or even much on the history of Final Fantasy during Uncovered, and this lead up strategy to September 30 should be quite effective in washing away the stigma of past mistakes. In that sense, the run-up to XV, and money spent in the process, comes off as brilliantly disguised damage control; a cleansing of the palate, if you will. If successful, this will completely clear the runway for Noctis, Regis, Prompto, Ignis, and so forth to have their entire impact felt without comparisons to the goof-troop pictured above.
Square Enix has a history that very few in the gaming industry can contend with, but it’s that history the company is gambling to make Final Fantasy XV as big as it can be. This is one of the few companies that innovates, sometimes a bit too much (hello, Deus Ex pre-orders), while still achieving triple-A levels of product. Again, this isn’t a presented hope that Final Fantasy XV and its company flounder. In fact, I’ll probably be grabbing this game regardless of other releases, but it seems important to look at everything at stake with a pivotal part of this beloved series and all that’s gone into that lottery ticket clutched in Square Enix’s hands. Because if they do hit that lottery and take Final Fantasy to unseen heights, they’ll have a brand new mansion to cultivate more history within.