These frustrations aren’t altogether surprising, though; it’s become a familiar story for several other AAA games out of Japan. Take Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, for example. Although I adore it, the Far Cry-esque, open world stealth elements, barebones story and forgettable bad guys make it feel very unlike Metal Gear Solid at times. Again, this insistence to incorporate an open world game loop is a big part of the issue, but developers seem convinced it should be jammed in.
I remember thinking back in September last year that MGSV felt reactionary. It felt like a departure from MGS4’s linear, story-focused, cut-scene heavy design, in favor of a something more palatable for the west. And while in terms of sheer gameplay MGSV was a triumph, I’d argue this obsession with repetitive open-world questing comes at a cost. In the case of both MGSV and FFXV, when you abandon too many of the nuances, tropes, and novelties that have always been a series mainstay, you run the risk of watering down the soul of what gives a franchise its personality. In short, the franchise loses its identity.
Yes, cooking is a fun way to power up our characters, but it’s been done before. The Regalia’s ability to play classic Final Fantasy tunes as you drive is also neat, as is the option to customize its appearance, but those too have featured in a dozen other games. And these are only minor features – the entirety of the sectioned off open world, the fetch quests, the dungeons for special weapons are core aspects of its design ripped straight out of western RPGs. When did Japanese developers lose the confidence to set the trends and innovate the mechanics, rather than splice together tried and tested design?
Go back twenty years and ask yourself whether Hironobu Sakaguchi would have wanted to include the side quest game loop of FFXV in classic Final Fantasy titles, and I’d be surprised if that was what he envisioned those games to be. Final Fantasy was always about story and characters, innovative gameplay in its battle systems and entertaining optional mini-games.
Sure, times have changed, but I want to see Japanese developers do what they have always done so brilliantly: forge their own identity, take the initiative, and not be afraid to make Japanese games… Japanese. Because otherwise what we’re getting close to ending up with are imitation western games that feel like a knock off. Japanese games have always felt endearing, they felt like a culture harnessed in entertainment; quirky, in a good way. And while FFXV’s western/Japanese hybrid is sometimes great, it’s sometimes quirky without the good..