By the time I got around to caring about Final Fantasy Versus XIII — sometime after Final Fantasy XIII came out, and I was lamenting how linear the franchise was becoming — it was already pretty clear that the game was probably stuck in development limbo. So I’m not exactly shocked to hear Kotaku reporting that Square Enix has probably decided to just kill the game.
There were plenty of reasons not to be excited about it anyway. What little the developers revealed made it sound like the game would have something very close to a real-world setting, and the main characters were explicitly compared to yakuza. I was mildly interested to see how they pulled that off, but didn’t really expect to like it.
On the other hand, everything else they said about Versus XIII made it sound like it could be a real game-changer.
Story has become pretty much the Final Fantasy series’ only selling point. Now, story is what drew me into the series in the first place; Final Fantasy VII‘s treatment of identity and loss was my first exposure to the narrative potential of games, and Final Fantasy VIII‘s narrative misfires helped me to start thinking about what makes a story work. But those stories had complex and engaging games built around them, a fact that’s become steadily less true over the years. By the time we the series got to XIII, the experience was depressingly one-note, combining about seven hours of cutscenes with 30 hours of increasingly repetitive gameplay that basically involved pressing X a lot.
Versus XIII may have had an uninspiring plot, evidently focused on some kind of moody gangster prince who needs to save the world from his evil girlfriend with his gangster buddies, or something. (This being a Final Fantasy title, the actual plot was probably even weirder.) But descriptions of the gameplay sounded revolutionary, with a (semi-)open world, vehicle sections, and airships that the player can actually fly. The game seemed to be making a genuine effort to recapture the sort of freedom the player had back in the series’ Nintendo and PS1 days, and it sounded genuinely ambitious.
This could also have been the reason the game was taking forever to develop, and therefore why it got canned. If so, the main reason to care is a worry that we’re in store for more one-note titles like XIII, and I’ll never get to fly an airship in HD.
Which is why this line from the Kotaku article is particularly encouraging:
Another source tells Kotaku that, a few months back, Final Fantasy Versus XIII’s development and resources had actually been folded into another game, which is to be the next numeric Final Fantasy title, Final Fantasy XV. Whether this meant actual game assets and code or simply the movement of staff was unclear.
Okay, there’s a lot of maybes and rumor at work here, but if the gameplay development that went into Versus XIII ends up in a completely new title — one that will presumably have a somewhat different story — this might be the best of both worlds. And the direct sequel to XIII, the somewhat ridiculously titled Final Fantasy XIII-2, did try to open the world back up, with towns the player could explore, side quests and even branching dialogue choices. So one can hope that’s a trend that will survive one ill-fated game.