Has Making Final Fantasy A Talky Ruined It?

Originally Posted by Onegai:

Simply put, “Yes”. Now before we go any further, I didn’t write this to play the purist who slags off all the latest Final Fantasies. I don’t dislike them (apart from FFX-II which in my humble opinion is nothing more than nostalgic masturbation to a terrible soundtrack) but I feel that Final Fantasy has lost something special since the closing of the Playstation 1 era.

When Final Fantasy first emerged, it was the last resort of a dying company known as Square. It was released in 1987 as Square’s last game (Hence the title Final Fantasy) with the hopes of salvaging Square’s now bleak future, but with little expectations. Who would have thought that 22 years later, Final Fantasy would be one of the biggest game franchises in the world and on its 13th sequel with a myriad of sub-releases, merchandise and even two movies.

Right from the beginning, Final Fantasy boasted a good soundtrack. Though the first game didn’t have much in the way of character development, its sequel, Final Fantasy 2, took a huge leap, introducing a series of more real-feeling characters. It was finally on Super Nintendo that Final Fantasy became an epic. Final fantasy 4 through 6 boasted amazing storylines with intricate plots and excellent character development accompanied by a brilliant soundtrack.

Final Fantasy 7 through 9 on Playstation 1 were equally as brilliant as their SNES predecessors. They had immersing and complicated storylines, outstanding musical scores and character development so good I felt I could reach out and touch each of the characters.

I laughed, yelled with rage and cried through each Final Fantasy from 4 through 9 and with every one I completed I was left feeling more satisfied than any other game has ever left me feeling. Yet I can honestly say 10 came close but it felt like it was missing something. Apart from the shock from talking – something I could have gotten used to – there was something else about it that I just could not put my finger on until I broke it down.

The soundtrack was the first thing of note. While it’s far from being bad, I feel it doesn’t begin to compare with its predecessors and I’ll tell you why. Before there were voice actors in Final Fantasy, the music was all they had to create a mood and an atmosphere. There is only so much that can be done with text, no matter how clever you are with punctuation. Therefore, the music wasn’t “good” or “on standard”, it was truly epic. It had to be. But with the introduction of voice actors, music wasn’t as essential for creating the mood as before.

The next thing I noticed was only once the shock of the voiceovers wore off. I realised that it was not so much the shock of the characters talking as the removal of the reading. It’s hard to explain so I’ll use a simple example. Despite the fact that we have movies, people still like to read books and there are plenty of books that should never be made into movies (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant being one example). There’s something to be said for using one’s imagination as far as a character’s voice is concerned. Because we’re all different, we all picture a slightly different voice which makes the experience all the more unique to us. By adding voices, it’s ruined that personal touch of imagination.

There’s also a special atmosphere that gets created by just having music and no talking. Final Fantasy is not a spectator game and that atmosphere of sitting in a room all alone, reading the dialogue boxes is something magical that, sadly, the up and coming generation of gamers will never appreciate. I guess to me, Final Fantasy was always a moving comic book (Especially FFVII) accompanied by a beautiful soundtrack or perhaps even, as a girl I once knew described FFVIII, a silent movie.

There are a lot of other changes that occurred which I didn’t take too kindly to. There was the fact that they did away with the free-roaming airship and the world map field from FFX upwards. There was the way they mutilated the battle system in FFXII and let’s not forget the god-awful abomination of a soundtrack in FFX-2. As for the “level-up system” in FFX, it was terrible. I won’t even mention my contempt for making FFXI an online multi-player circle jerk. Still, to me the biggest and worst change is still making Final Fantasy a talky. Were it not for that development, I believe the Final Fantasy franchise would not have taken the turn for the worst that it now has.

The last thing I want to point out is that the translation from Japanese to English is not a simple one. Firstly the grammatical structure is completely different. Secondly, a sentence is often shorter in one language than the other. Now here’s where the problem comes in. As a translator, you get given a game and told, ‘Translate this to English, but keep the sentences the same length and reword them so that there aren’t any lip-sync problems.’ Well now that’s a tall order, especially when translating from an Asian language to English. Ever watched a dubbed Kung-Fu movie? Notice that phrases like “hey you” are often used repeatedly throughout the movie? It’s because of the aforementioned translation problem (This is why I prefer subtitles and am of the opinion that dubbing should be banned). Now I’ll commend the translation staff of FFX here because they did do an excellent job dubbing it without any discernable lip-sync problems but I have to ask myself this: how much content did I miss though? How much of the dialogue was changed substantially? There’s also the fact that Japanese voice-actors are generally more talented than their western counterparts. With dialogue boxes, you have no need to worry about these limitations so it’s a lot easier to translate with far better accuracy.

So why’d they do it? I can only offer speculation here. I can tell you, it certainly wasn’t due to budget constraints as voice actors don’t do it for free. I have to say that if I’m to hazard a guess, it would probably be “commercial reasons”. This is because the era of non-talky single player games probably ended in the early years of Playstation 1. The fact that Final Fantasy was still using dialogue boxes in its ninth instalment was somewhat of a miracle – one that sadly didn’t last. There are many gamers out there that would have rejected Final Fantasy for the very reason that they had to read so much and let’s face it, the neo-gamers of today are not the geeks of our generation but rather the regular folks and even the jocks and low-classes. Thanks to the gaming evolution that mainstreamed this media, the industry is now catering for all those idiots that “don’t has to read”. So, back to my point, making FF a talky has most definitely secured it a brand new audience, leaving behind the true fans who devotedly watched over its development from the day it was born. Sadly, most of us will still buy all the new FF games religiously so Square Enix have not actually lost anything in this process.

In my opinion, FFIX was the last great Final Fantasy and FFX was the last good one. It’s been downhill ever since and although I have yet to play FFXIII, but I’m really not holding my breath. As with everything, commercial potential always becomes the driving force while everything else rides shotgun.

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