"When a game is described as fan service, it seems reasonable to question just how the fan is being serviced. Patronage should be rewarded; the Final Fantasy series was built on our backs, us fate-deciding gamers, who saw potential in a poorly translated but ever-engrossing title called Final Fantasy II, which, we were later told, was the fourth game in the series. Two titles in between the NES journeys of a generic bunch of heroes and the plight-plagued saga of Dark Knight Cecil were left over..."
When a game is described as fan service, it seems reasonable to question just how the fan is being serviced. Patronage should be rewarded; the Final Fantasy series was built on our backs, us fate-deciding gamers, who saw potential in a poorly translated but ever-engrossing title called Final Fantasy II, which, we were later told, was the fourth game in the series. Two titles in between the NES journeys of a generic bunch of heroes and the plight-plagued saga of Dark Knight Cecil were left overseas. We wouldn’t like them. Square decided for us fans.
They also decided some other things for us. They decided we could not comprehend an attack that damaged all enemies at the expense of health; how could we wrap our minds around such strategy. They decided enemies and bosses should be dumbed down, for we had not the might to conquer the same formidable challenges as Japanese gamers. They, like Darwin, just knew the nature of us. Invisible passages were made blatantly visible for us half-wits. The motivations of a major (and complicated) character, Kain, were omitted, because we probably wouldn’t understand anyway. How dare we take notice to their fan service, just now, when they’ve been serving us exemplary for so long!
In Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, Square’s gracious follow-up, the fan service begins by spending eight dollars for six hours, or roughly one-fifth, of a game, with later installments costing three dollars apiece and doled out in monthly installments. Like a dealer, they figure we’ll come back for a fix (and likewise, the final episode will run eight dollars). These three dollar deviations focus on the particular exploits of certain members of the original Final Fantasy IV cast, be it karate man Yang, summoner Rydia, mages Palom and Porom, or others. Events occur seventeen years after the original journey, with Cecil and Rosa reining as King and Queen of Baron, their young son Ceodore a fledging member of the Red Wings, and mysterious monsters returning to the land again.
New players be warned: Square has seemingly gone out of their way to make this game inaccessible from the get-go. Monsters are tough, with it often assumed you know how to neutralize their particular exploits, and now randomly attack at a feverish pace (so feverish you might even lose your sense of direction trudging through the underground beneath Baron Castle even though the catacomb is completely intact). Characters arise with little introduction; of course you remember them all, even though the original was released nearly seventeen years ago. You probably bought one of Square’s numerous re-releases capitalizing on what we originally weren’t smart enough for; you don’t need a refresher on Edge’s motivations!
To be fair, I reveled in the tough battles and plodding, dungeon crawl pace. This was how I remembered some of the best, challenging parts of the original. Amazingly, despite the high random battle rate, the pacing of the story is dramatic and hectic as well: Ceodore is attacked on a routine training expedition, King Cecil is possessed, a mysterious girl is after the crystals of light, Cid and Rosa run off on an airship, an enigmatic hooded man becomes Ceodore’s battlemate, Kain goes through yet another identity crisis and begins aiding the mysterious girl, Rydia barely escapes danger, a second moon appears, and more! There is a ton packed into the first eight dollars, so much so you wish Square would stop for a second, reintroduce some backgrounds and motivations and fully develop all the ideas before haphazardly sprinting for the finish line full throttle.
They may be telling a great story, but they’re brutalizing it for the sake of cashing in. Not only is the pacing atrocious – I enjoy the constant switching between characters, but can we appreciate their backstory and experiment with tactics for a minute – but the attempt to cash in with installments makes the story all the more painful to watch unfold. The transitions between the fast-moving drama of the game and weeks of waiting for successive installments appear jarring; why? Why can’t I proceed now? Why must I wait weeks, forgetting important plot points that were already brushed over in the pointless need to tell the story in such a brief span of time? Is it really that necessary to tease and withhold at the expense of people that were, you know, actually enjoying parts of the game despite its already obvious learning curve and pacing problems?
Final Fantasy IV, the original, was a fantastic tale butchered by translations, dumbed-down by lead designers that assumed we were an inferior audience, and cashed in on time and time again when they finally gave us the respect (and product) they gave to Japanese audiences from the start. Still, I loved it, with its sympathetic and nuanced characters, its challenging and tactical boss fights and the commitment it required to see to the finished. I thought, for once, with this supposed “fan service,” our loyalty for tolerating the initial missteps, for supporting successive Final Fantasies, and for not letting the legend of this game die would be rewarded.
As it turns out, this is yet another cold, hardened attempt to cash in. A potentially great story is butchered by the need to stifle it into installments (the complete package will check in at 39 $US) and ruined on the younger generation by the unwillingness to slow down and tell it right. This isn’t fan service, and I’m tired of getting jerked around by a company just for liking a game despite them. This is yet another slap in the face to the true fans of the original game, packed with meaningless trivialities such as moon phases affecting attack strength, when all we really want is a finished product from the start – for once – signed, sealed and delivered with care.
It won’t be until 2018, when Square decides to attempt to cash in on the latest popular portable, that they release both games in one complete package, told the right way, with proper pacing and storytelling, where you can proceed through the adventure at your leisure, for a reasonable sum of money. But if all the material for that game is here already, I’ve got to ask, why are we going to have to wait a decade for the game we all really want? Don’t most companies try to give us that from the start?
Talk about poor service.
Community review by drella (June 22, 2009)
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