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Holy shit, it's mind-blowing (-flaying?) how I actually have to make an effort not to subconsciously ignore the name Final Fantasy whenever I see it around the news sites these days. In a weird kind of way, it hurts me a little. I once idolized the series—though it was never my favourite—now, it's kinda like that high school friend who betrayed you in some way and never spoke to you again. He fell in with a bad crowd, and every time you hear about him now, it's nothing but trouble. You pretend to care, but you kinda couldn't give less of a shit whether he's alive or not. That's me and Final Fantasy.
Anyways. From IV to X, the series was really onto something. They all had their various issues, but they were ambitious in scope and narrative, and had potential to really become a determining factor in the "is video game art?" discussion (it is). And even if their lofty ambitions didn't always come to fruition, at least as pure video games they were always fun and sufficiently deep enough to make for a good, well-invested experience.
To me, all the preceding games were a build-up to X, one of the most significant cultural experiences of my life to that point—and, I suspect, my life in its entirety. Few or none of my school friends knew jack shit about Final Fantasy, and it felt like my own special thing that they should be kicking themselves for missing out on. It came at exactly the right time in my life, and has helped me grow as a person and steer me in the right direction.
Exactly what went wrong after that is hard to quantify. XII was a bloated, unoriginal mess that seemed doggedly determined to both regress to lesser ideals of early titles, while at the same time trying to break as many conventions as possible. It doesn't help that fiery creative souls that had shaped the series throughout decades were drifting away, either out of exhaustion or to see if their little hatchling could fly on its own accord.
...And well, here we are, almost a decade into the biggest series identity crisis in video gaming history. The people that are handling it now have no idea what they are doing. Square says they won't remake VII until they "surpass" their most popular work. At this rate, that will never actually happen. It's sad, and there's no one easy answer to this quandary.
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