As I sat playing Final Fantasy XV, the words and title of one of its theme songs "Too Much Is Never Enough" kept running through my head. It might be one of the most appropriate theme song titles in all of gaming. It's weirdly applicable to Final Fantasy XV, the upcoming new installment in a series built upon nearly 30 years of tradition, yet famous for making monumental changes in between installments. For a series like Final Fantasy, there's no way to please everyone, and what some see as too much will undoubtedly be not enough for others. Here's a few thoughts from my play time, after which I quickly lose my mind while diving through every line of "Too Much Is Never Enough" and how it applies to this game.
Final Fantasy XV's combat felt good. It's primarily an action RPG, though a Wait Mode is included for those who prefer the battle systems of the first 10 games in the series. I zipped around using standard action RPG moves with twists like teleportation and teamwork attacks. While it was fairly impressive, we come to that "Too much is never enough" situation where you know a lot of FF fans will hate this.
Some early Final Fantasy titles had battle system haters, even in their own time, but the complaints seemed minor when compared to the games of PS2 era and beyond. Starting with either X-2 or XII, depending who you ask, the system changes became more and more radical with each installment. As the fanbase grew, so did the total number of voices ready to wail and the total number of teeth ready to be gnashed about those changes. Big pockets of fans want the series to go back to turn based combat, so the dev team introduced Wait Mode.
Surprisingly, the hybrid system works alright. To me, FFXV Wait Mode felt a bit like another PS4 game I played in Tokyo, Valkyria: Azure Revolution, with its action RPG base given a turn-based spice. Frankly speaking, however, that won't be enough for turn-based purists. A hybrid system is not what they're demanding.
"Too much. Never enough."
I, like many, was hesitant to get on board with a playable cast of entirely dudes. As it turns out, what I've played of the game and what I've been shown has turned my skepticism into cautious optimism. This can work. But, just as some people did with Final Fantasy X-2, some will object to the idea, out of principle. Though the series has always features some kind of big change from one game to the next, some directions are forever off limits.
Too much is, once again, never enough.
RPGs are legendarily hard to judge by demos. Their stories can take dozens of hours to unfold, their systems can take as many to fully blossom, and their large worlds aren't the kind of thing that a demo can really show you. Final Fantasy XV was no different. I'll say what I can about the story and characters, but obviously, take this with all the salt you want.
Conversation didn't feel natural, it felt like the characters were talking because an executive had a minimum word count in mind for a script. You know how in cowboy movies, a guy shoots a gun at the ground and yells "dance," and the other guy moves his feet real fast? Sometimes, FFXV felt like the conversational version of that.
Much as the cowboy isn't "dancing" so much as "moving his feet to avoid having them torn apart by bullets," the characters in FFXV were talking because someone at Square Enix decided that the soundtrack wasn't sufficient background noise. That makes sense because, I mean, when has music ever helped carry a Final Fantasy game, right?
On the other hand, video game voice acting and the tech that surround it are getting better all the time, and audiences are demanding more vocal chatter in their RPGs. Look no further than scattered complaints of text-only dialog segments in Persona and Yakuza games for evidence of that; both are great franchises, both have legions of loyal fans, and both have people I can't stop seeing that list that as a barrier they can't get past anymore. So hey, I might not like the FFXV cast chatterbox, but I can understand the pressure the producers feel.
Again, those words come back to me, "Too much... never enough."
OK, you know what? I'm just gonna start quoting the lyrics of the song and commenting bit by bit. Ready for this?
And the crown, it weighs heavy.
Yeah, no joke. Final Fantasy sat long as the king of Japanese RPGs, but does it still hold that title? Just as you'll hear different fans picking their favorites, you'll hear many pinpointing a game in the series that turned them off completely -- mabye that even punched their ticket out of fandom completely. "After Final Fantasy (insert number), they lost me," and similarly worded comments can be found peppered through any discussion of the long-running franchise.
That pressure, that history, and the expectations that go with them make success so much more important for a Final Fantasy game than any other JRPG. It creates this loop. Success leads to high expectations from fans; their high expectations lead to bigger budgets; bigger expectations and higher budgets combine and lead to higher sales expectations by people in suits.
'Til it's banging on my eyelids
Banging on my eyelids, yes, Final Fantasy has long been defined by its standout artwork and graphics. No matter the console generation, there was always a Final Fantasy to be found among its best-looking games.
Or it could be an allusion to hentai fan art. Maybe it's both?
Cause I'm retreating in covers and closing the curtains
A record of Tetsuya Nomura's history with Final Fanatsy XV.
One thing's for certain, oh
A year like this passes so strangely
Somewhere between sorrow and bliss
And now, somehow the song is talking about my whole fucking life? Hey, song, what the hell, man?
But it's also strikingly applicable to Final Fantasy XV's development process. Remember, this game was initially revealed at E3 of 2006, under the title Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Two-thousand six!
Oh, who decides from where up high?
I couldn't say, "I need more time."
See above. Holy crap, these lyrics and their commentary run deep. All you have to do is attach my hypothetical narrative to these lyrics, and use a little bit of confirmation bias, and you can easily see these lines pointing toward this game's years of media silence, which ended in director Tetsuya Nomura's removal from the project.
Oh, grant that I can stay the night
Or one more day inside this life.
See above, follow the chain, and try to keep your jaw off the floor.
Too much, too much, too much, too much, too much
Final Fantasy, in a sentence. There can be no decisive win for this title. No matter what this game does right, there have been too many games with too many different systems and stories over the decades. There is no pleasing everyone. Even if it sells boatloads and gets critical praise, you better believe there will be (and already are) a whole crap ton of fans who hate this game -- hate it with a passion.
Oh, you wondrous creature
Coming up who we are
I don't know what the fuck this means.
And then it repeats the chorus some.
Too much, too much, too much, too much, too much
Then we get into that part where Square Enix was clearly like "Oh yeah, we'd better make this talk about something extremely specific, so that people can't like the song without knowing it's totally from something:"
And who cares about the thing I did that night?
So what? Maybe Luna had it right.
But even this seemingly shoehorned-in reference to a powerful plot point paints a poignant picture pf Phinal Phantasy Phifteen's production, practically permanently in purgatory. It's notorious for its years in development hell and eventual change of director. Anger burning though it may be, Tetsuya Nomura ain't on this project anymore, and is now busy not finishing Kingdom Hearts III. Hajime Tabata was brought in because he has a reputation of getting games onto shelves. Love them or hate them (repeat that chorus for me, baby), Tabata's games actually go to market.
As many fans will readily tell you, much of Nomura's signature style and alleged vision were lost in the transition, but at some point, Square Enix had to say that enough was enough -- and too much development time means the financial return is -- you know where this is going -- never enough.
All you have to do is follow my crackpot theory for this line to express the doubt that will eternally fuel debates inside of Square Enix's headquarters and in countless discussion forums around the web: would Tabata's FFXV or Nomura's FFXV (or Versus XIII) have been the better game? We'll only ever have half of the equation. With strong adherence to my narrative, Nomura becomes the Luna of this lyric.
Square Enix could be the "I" and if so, the "thing I did that night" would likely be the director switch. Holy balls, the layers, man. The layers to this thing.
And who cares if I'm coming back alive?
So what? 'Least I have the strength to fight.
Noctis dies, confirmed.
In a Coleman tent.