Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Before WoW There Was Final Fantasy X

I have a confession to make, one that may help explain my blog’s title a bit: I’m not currently playing any MMO’s, and haven’t for a while.   I’ve had neither the money nor the consistent schedule of free time to invest in something like World of Warcraft or Rift.  What I have been playing most recently is Final Fantasy X, an incredible game whose innovations were ahead of their time.  Well, not the innovations themselves, but the attitude behind the innovations.

When it came out nearly a decade ago, Final Fantasy X was met with mixed feelings for some of its departures from the franchise’s established norms.  The Active Time Battle system that had been in place for the previous six installments was replaced with a turn based system.  The franchise (and genre) precedent of a party of 3-4 characters being fixed in battle was scrapped, and characters were allowed to be swapped in and out in the middle of a battle.  These changes were lauded by most but criticized by many of the FF faithful, who argued that the changes made FFX too easy, removing the challenge posed by the ATB and party limitations. Despite the criticism and concerns of oversimplification, Final Fantasy X went on to be one of the best selling installments of the series, even becoming the first (and only) installment to get a direct sequel.

So in essence, FFX shifted directions and moved the franchise towards streamlined gameplay without the arbitrary limitations of its genre cohorts, shifting slightly away from immersion in order to deliver a consistently fun play experience.  While panned as being oversimplified, too easy and less immersive, it went on to major success.  Sounds a lot like World of Warcraft to me!

This is the kind of development attitude I’d like to see from more studios: breaking down genre precedents to streamline the parts of gameplay that matter.  And the changes don’t even have to be revolutionary genre-shattering changes.  Something as simple as equipping new gear is simpler in FFX, where you are given the option to equip something immediately after buying it, instead of having to “click” through various menus to get to your inventory.  Games are about achieving a state of Flow as often as possible and sustaining it as effectively as possible, and this kind of development attitude only gets us closer to that perfect state of fun and Flow.

PS: I hate to admit this and so will most of you, but part of FFX’s draw is also the amazing set of visual effects for actions in combat, complemented perfectly with appropriate sounds.  I know we like to think we’re above such basic sensory titillation, but FFX proves us wonderfully wrong on that one

1 comment:

  1. I *love* the combat and character progression schemes of FFX. I've even borrowed the sense of time that the game uses in my own design, and intend to write up an article about it as part of my Balance series. It was a departure from the FF trend, but a fantastic one.