Dear Square Enix, team Final Fantasy:
I cannot by any means explain to you in a reasonable fashion how I feel about Final Fantasy. I suspect, if only from your constant battles with what the series is supposed to be, that you have a similar problem coming to terms with what it "should be" at its core. It has come to mean so much to so many people, and each generation has their preferred entries. I do not think I am being unfair to say, for all that, that Final Fantasy has largely lost its way, that there is confusion and despair as to what makes Final Fantasy worth constantly pursuing.
If there was any grovelling, prayer, or servile actions I could take to have you take me seriously, I would, because I am a person who, for my many faults, has found more love in games than he has in life. And make no mistake, life has its beauties; in calm skies and storms, in cities and farms, in life and in death, there are good things that are worth cherishing. But any given person can only see so much, go so far, and there are depths and heights to this world that man will never know, except in stories, and the medium of games is a powerful way to tell stories.
That is why I pray, beg, that you take me seriously when I say that you are losing your ability to tell stories well. I consume stories, avidly, and often I consume stories which are not well written or acted, stories done by one person or two, stories that could never measure up to any polished jewel in quality, and yet games with large teams so often seem to fall short of these unpolished, shining gems picked out of the sand. There are stories which are done by people who do not, cannot, scrape together a living from their work, who tell stories for the glorious desire in their hearts to tell stories. And there are stories told by people who are afraid that if they do not tell a story, they will have to find another place of work.
I worry and fear about Final Fantasy because recently the series has a sickly aesthetic to it. Final Fantasy, no, all games in the genre of role playing tend to have an undercurrent of hope and change, inspiring people to fight, to not give up, and we consume these games in part because we are searching for courage.
But many games now do not give courage. The immersive aesthetic gets us caught up in something other than a story of heroes, in a world with great beauty and wonder that, according to the story, is actually awful and needs to be changed.
And truly, even in the dark places in the world, there is wonder. All the parts of the world, good and bad, need to be saved when heroes are trying to save the world itself. Yet when you aren't fighting to save the world, when instead you are fighting to change it, you have to destroy some of those wonderous things, and that's terrifying.
In this world, in the real world, we do not usually have to really fight, destroy, kill, and god knows I don't want us to have to. However, that same problem--that when you change the world, you are robbed of what was there before--that is still there, and it is still terrifying. Even something as mundane as leaving one job in order to find the next; when you do that, you are losing something, a rock, a stability. And even if you are leaving for a good reason, because your employer is an awful human being or the company is not treating you right, even then it takes courage.
To me, this entire topic has at its core one game, and no points for guessing. Final Fantasy VII was a game, no, a story, where at the start, characters were willing to throw their lives away against impossible odds. They did not do this to kill a person, although people died; they did it because they objected to a cold, callous machine that was changing their world in a way that they knew, that they could FEEL was bad. To most of the world, though, that machine represented progress.
These people, they believed the world needed to change. Many people did; the party members, the others in AVALANCHE; the people in the slums; the people affected by reactors in their home towns... and yet it takes more courage than most people have in order to change the world. In that sense, not Cloud, but Barret is the hero of the story, just for having the nerve to move forward and drag the others onwards. That doesn't excuse his violent methods, but his courage was a singular point of brightness in the dark, and that would have been there without Cloud.
I worry about Final Fantasy, and I worry about the new Final Fantasy VII project. I worry that Square Enix has become one of the people dragged along by technology, proverbially hooked on Mako Energy, when one thing that Final Fantasy has always been was a story that grants us the courage to swim against the tide.
I worry that the gaming industry is trying to make things shiny and perfect and future-ish instead of focusing on what fundamentally makes games worth playing. I worry that the new Final Fantasy VII project is focusing so much on appearances that it becomes a behemoth that cannot be stopped, when we as consumers want something that touches us; not a ride we cannot escape, but one which we do not wish to leave, one that we wish to remain forever in our hearts.
There are small projects all over the world, which you can find on the internet, that touch people's hearts. There are things done by only one person which have more heart than projects touched by a hundred hands.
One of the lessons that society must learn over and over again, one of the stories that must keep being handed down generation after generation, is that people can lose their way by chasing after progress. It has happened over and over: kings wage war to create peace and prosperity, businessmen exploit workers to create enough goods for everyone, politicians strike grand trade deals and pass great laws. In each case, there are great benefits, and great losses, and those who lose sight of what they have lost become the villains when the stories are passed down through the ages.
In their own small ways, games such as the new Final Fantasy VII project are doing the same. They strive to gain something, but in their search for progress, they leave a number of important things by the wayside. It's not on the scale of wars or employee abuse or international trade dispute. It does, however, affect us, and affect our children, because we want to use these stories to tell our children about the world, and they will want stories in their generation that explain their thinking to their children.
It is important enough to me that if I could beg, if I could change the world by only lowering my head to the ground, I would, if not replace the ongoing project, create a new one; the new project would be a story about hope and courage, and a cautionary tale about progress, the way Final Fantasy VII should be. It is not an impossible task, but it may take people who love the game and the world, who are not acting out of loyalty to a company, but to the project itself.