The Final Fantasy series is at an interesting point right now. We’re at the in-between, the time between the previous game landing and a new one being announced. But this in-between is quite different from those of the past. We know more about the games industry as a community, for one. But also, Square Enix has been the house of drama in the games industry. Most of that drama has centered around the Japanese branch of the company, the house of Final Fantasy. So between that drama, where the series is, and my personal tastes, here’s what I think would be great for the next Final Fantasy.
There are two important factors that aren’t conjecture or posturing on my part when it comes to what’s next for Final Fantasy. The first factor is Hajime Tabata, or to be more specific, the resignation of the man and subsequent cancellation of planned Final Fantasy XV content. The second factor is Tetsuya Nomura, Kingdom Hearts III, and the upcoming Final Fantasy VII remake. These things happening around the same time has Square Enix in a weird position, one that could mean we don’t see a Final Fantasy XVI announcement for some time.
Tabata leaving Square Enix to form his own studio is a huge issue for Square Enix and the Final Fantasy brand. It isn’t that Tabata is the only person capable of directing a Final Fantasy game, although he did seem to have the magic touch. Rather, it’s that his team was literally in the middle of extending the life of Final Fantasy XV, and now a lot of that work is dead. What’s left of that team at Square Enix may still be in emergency scrambling mode, getting that last bit of non-canceled content out and then figuring out what the heck to do next.
Meanwhile, Nomura is booked. While I don’t think the Final Fantasy VII remake will take a million years to finish, like many love to joke about, it’s still a substantial amount of work that needs to be done. We don’t know anything about the game yet, other than that the whole scope of it changed multiple years into development. Also, while Kingdom Hearts III shipped and was totally fine and good, we already know there’s more content on the way. Not only is Critical Mode coming soon, but additional story DLC has already been confirmed. Nomura can’t be involved with the next Final Fantasy either.
So where does that leave us? Nowhere east. Square Enix has a stable of names and talent it could refer to for the next Final Fantasy, but making that choice will be a big deal. It would probably be a bad move to go back to Motomu Toriyama for example, who we mostly know as the scenario writer and director for titles such as the Final Fantasy XIII series. That style of Final Fantasy feels dated now, especially after XV. Personally I think some new blood would be a great idea, perhaps someone at the company who is still cutting their teeth, but hasn’t had a major directorial role yet.
Beyond the creative lead, I think Final Fantasy needs to continue on the path started by Final Fantasy XV. That game was a hard committal to a certain style that has been brewing for a while, and now that style needs to be polished. An open world game with a real time combat system, fueled by flashy movement and passive control can be great. It just needs refinement. The next Final Fantasy probably can’t afford to try to reinvent the wheel again, as we saw how much that troubled getting Final Fantasy XV out of the door. Build on that, instead of starting over.
A lot has been happening at Square Enix lately. The company has been experimenting, failing, trying new things, pushing long-troubled projects across the finish line, and losing key talent as well. And what big name talent is still there is hard at work on the Final Fantasy VII remake. So I think Square Enix needs to do a little mix of playing it safe and trying something new. A new name should be in charge of the scenario and storytelling/direction of the project, while the development team should seek to refine the gameplay and structure of Final Fantasy XV instead of starting from scratch again. Final Fantasy XVI is sure to be another home run, but Square Enix can’t afford another ten year wait. The new game needs to be smart, efficient, and flashy enough to make an impact.