I reviewed Final Fantasy: Type-0 HD on Monday, and suffice to say that I liked it. Once you accept that it's a PSP game and calibrate your expectations accordingly, it really is a worthwhile use of 30-50 hours.
But unfortunately Type-0 also perfectly illustrates one of the biggest problems facing Final Fantasy at the moment. Jargon is crushing the life out of the franchise's most important aspect, and drowning what really matters in an ocean of total nonsense.
Sadly, Fabula Nova Crystallis has a lot to answer for as the ultimate motherload of pretentious convoluted gibberish. Indeed, its very name is pretentious convoluted gibberish in its purest form!
There's always going to be jargon in videogames, and RPGs have plenty of it as one of the more complex genres out there. "Hitpoints," for example. "Experience." "Mana." These terms come second nature to us, but only because they'e been beaten into us over several decades.
There's no escaping technical terminology when it comes to world-building, too. RPGs are often Fantastical and obviously Final Fantasy is one of the most fantastical of the lot. You'll often need to create new words, new phrases, new places, towns, people and technology, to flesh out your setting into a world. From Bastion's "Rippling Walls," to Fallout's "Brotherhood Of Steel" -- even the "Mushroom Kingdom" -- videogames will always have some jargon to get to grips with. It adds flavour to a setting and evokes a sense of being in a totally different universe.
However, what matters more than the setting is the story and characters. The plot, the events, and most critically of all how it affects the characters themselves. The joy, the fear, the surprise, the deep loss and the amazing last-minute revelations. Characters go on a journey in any sense of the phrase, both geographically and as people. That's why we play JRPGs when it comes right down to it, no matter how decent the battle system.
Final Fantasy used to understand that, so let's pick... I dunno... how about Final Fantasy II? This tale of four youngsters' struggle against an evil empire is often overlooked by fans, but it's one of my favourites because it told its story in big simple strokes and heartbreaking set pieces, meaning that I still remember everyone in it and everything that happened to them.
Brave and compassionate Minwu dies a hero. The last Dragoon, Ricard Highwind, joins the party for several hours, yet is effortlessly cut down by the resurrected emperor while the party desperately escapes, helpless to intervene. Elderly miner Josef takes up the fight despite his age, fighting for what he believes in before holding back an enormous boulder trap, buying Firion enough time to escape with his broken body. Prince Scott of Kashuan is stuck down at the battle for Fynn Castle, causing his grief-stricken brother Gordon to renounce his cowardice in the process. And more besides. Each death, each personal loss of a friend, means something - and so much more because you did the right thing. In war, people die. Because you got it right, because it was the best case scenario.
What about Final Fantasy: Tactics Advance? Again, a great story with bold characters, big themes and broad strokes. A disabled boy who can finally be happy. A failure who becomes a knight. A magical world where everything is better, yet nothing is real. It still gets me, right in the chest, because it doesn't overcomplicate the themes, plot and characters any more than it has to.
However, Final Fantasy VIII started to flirt with the dark side of storytelling, the spamming of jargon rather than clever themes and strong characters, though Final Fantasy IX pulled things back for a while. X teetered on the brink too, but was more than saved by its great cast. And then, after a while Fabula Nova Crystallis happened.
Now can someone please explain what Final Fantasy XIII, XIII-2 or Lightning Returns were actually about?
I mean, there are l'Cies... right? And Fal'Cies and Cie'ths and Echo Plinths and Paradoxes and I can't remember a damn thing that happened. Not a thing. The whole story bloated and merged into a homogeneous mess of utter gibberish, followed by Type-0, which buried what should have been an intimate story about the horrors of war into a ridiculous, confusing and po-faced wall of jargon. Finis... what? Agito...eh? Huh? We take Chocobos and Moogles for granted, of course, but the sheer level of tedious waffle has reached breaking point. Most Final Fantasy games just boil down to 'magic crystals' and 'evil empire' after all.
Oh, and I made up 'Echo Plinths.' I bet that a few people didn't even notice.
See, Square seems to have forgotten that you don't need jargon to tell your story, or worse to be your story. You need just enough to spark the imagination and set up your world, but capitalising every other word doesn't make a story clever. It makes a story worse, poorly-told, prosaic, pretentious and getting further away from the simple, real human moments that drive a great JRPG. The more jargon, the less real affecting drama, joy and emotion can emerge.
Let's see how Final Fantasy XV holds up. Though we joke about its 'lads on a road trip' setup, perhaps this is exactly the relateable premise that Final Fantasy needs to bring the focus back to story and characters -- and to finish the terrible Fabula Nova Crystallis universe on a high.
See also: Final Fantasy: Type-0 HD tips guide