Immediately after finishing Final Fantasy VII Remake, a game I enjoyed then very quickly had complicated feelings on, all eventually culminating in me cooling on it entirely, I decided to go back and play Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2, my favorites in Square-Enix’s long-running RPG series.
Going from a series’ latest entry to something nearly 20 years old is a really easy way to assess what priorities have changed, and now that I’m on the other end of the Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster, you’d think I’d be jonesing for more, wondering if a Final Fantasy X-3 could be coming someday and if I’d get to see Yuna and Tidus again in all their shiny, modern glory. But after Final Fantasy VII Remake and some of Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster’s bonus content, I don’t know if Square-Enix really gets why its games have resonated with people 20 years after the fact, and its repeated insistence on revisiting these characters so far removed has had diminishing returns, making them into icons slowly but surely divorced from the stories that made them meaningful in the first place.
[The following will contain spoilers for both Final Fantasy VII Remake and basically everything associated with Final Fantasy X]
Final Fantasy VII Remake is a game about legacy and being free of it. Despite its misleading name, Final Fantasy VII Remake is actively attempting to pull itself away from what it presents itself as, not even just philosophically, but within the game’s universe. Throughout, ghost-like Whispers are interrupting events, attempting to keep things on track according to fate’s plan. These whispers are literally attempting to hold the story of Final Fantasy VII together, whether it be by just being obnoxious and getting in the way of protagonist Cloud Strife as he’s about to interrupt a major event, or saving people from dying before they’re supposed to. The end of the game has the cast actually defeating these whispers, ostensibly opening up their story to brand new possibilities.
Square-Enix says the next installment in Final Fantasy VII Remake won’t be diverging from the original too much, but given the elaborate meta narrative the game has going on, that seems unlikely.
But the point here isn’t that Final Fantasy VII Remake is making meta-driven changes to the original story, essentially making a sequel under the guise of a remake, it’s that Square-Enix is proving it’s more than willing to put its modern storytelling sensibilities onto old stories, even if it means altering them in fundamental ways, and in some cases at the expense of the original thesis.
Bringing this back to Final Fantasy X and X-2, which were two games about the dismantling of organized religion and then people live new lives without the oppression of these outdated teachings to put them in boxes. Because of this, these games are very different in tone, as protagonist Yuna goes from a pious, duty-bound summoner, to a treasure hunter who is traveling the world of Spira on her own terms and attempting to shed her ties to the same religion she tore down with the help of her guardians.
Even with the tonal shift, Final Fantasy X and X-2 tell a neatly defined and concise story, and Final Fantasy X-2’s additions never undermined or altered what Final Fantasy X was, they merely expanded on them. This concise storytelling is something Final Fantasy frankly hasn’t been able to claim in over a decade.
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Final Fantasy XIII, a game dead set on never plainly stating a thing it has to say, was the face of the franchise from 2009 to 2014, and its sequels, while good, only muddied the waters of what that trilogy was actually about. Eventually, thematic throughlines were all but abandoned by the end, with most of the characters being unrecognizable, weathered by repeated timeskips, to the point where the only characters who reach the end of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII feeling like themselves were sisters Lightning and Serah, who never stopped fighting for each other, even as the universe haphazardly shifted around them. Even in the final game’s title, you get a sense of what the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy was to Square-Enix: a series to promote the icon that was Lightning, in whatever form she might have taken, whether that be a soldier, the champion of a goddess, or a Christ-like figure.
Final Fantasy XV, a game that many would argue wasn’t truly “finished” until the Royal Edition that launched in 2018, is a story fractured into different pieces of media, including anime and a movie. This isn’t even an issue of sequels being harder to parse for people who haven’t experienced previous entries, actual plot beats and set ups for the story of Final Fantasy XV are skimmed over unless you watch Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV. And even then, the whole thing’s lacking in the same coherence of Final Fantasy X/X-2, and while the characters and relationships are still pretty strong, the actual themes are murky in comparison to Final Fantasy of old, and the story is still kind of unfinished after its DLC plans were canned.
Enter Final Fantasy X -Will-, an audio drama included in Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster that takes place about a year after Final Fantasy X-2, but brings with it a mangled understanding of why its original story mattered, and how the sequel managed to bolster those characters and themes rather than just merely be more of them. Here, all of the attempts Yuna made to distance herself from the sanctuaries she desecrated are undone. She’s now an advisor to a religious group called the Yevoners and sporting a similar outfit to her original appearance in Final Fantasy X. Not only that, but Sin, the main antagonist and a very literal allegory to the idea of the inherent sin of man for defying the will of god, has returned, despite the symbolic destruction of the creature in Final Fantasy X. Somehow, when given the opportunity to continue the story of Final Fantasy X, Square-Enix decided it had to go back to basics, even at the expense of undoing everything that Final Fantasy X and X-2 were.
The more I watch Final Fantasy retell or add onto its stories, the more it feels like Square-Enix boiling each of its stories down to iconography, rather than coming up with genuine ways to expand upon them. In an interview with Siliconera, producer Yoshinori Kitase said that bringing back Sin was similar to past instances where villian Sephiroth has been brought back in Final Fantasy VII’s extended universe.
“Similar to how Sephiroth’s role in Final Fantasy VII, Sin plays a very important role in Final Fantasy X and we wanted to keep Sin involved [with the story],” said Kitase. “We can’t say what happens to Sin after the radio drama, we wanted to leave something up to the player’s imagination.”
But the destruction of Sin is more important to Final Fantasy X and X-2’s story than Sin itself ever was. Sin isn’t a character with motivation that would allow it to break the boundaries of death, it’s a force of nature that’s end symbolizes liberation from a religion that has demanded the sacrifice of thousands of people. It is a cycle that was broken by Yuna in Final Fantasy X, and bringing it back feels like a great misunderstanding of how Final Fantasy characters can be more than just symbols of an era in a video game franchise, which it feels like Square-Enix is more than happy to make them the farther we get from each game.
Square-Enix says that its team would like to work on a hypothetical Final Fantasy X-3 and that -Will- would be the jumping off point for it, but between Final Fantasy VII Remake, Final Fantasy XIV, and probably Final Fantasy XVI somewhere in there, the company just doesn’t have the time to make it. But the more I watch how modern Final Fantasy handles storytelling and picking back up where things long finished left off, I think I’m ready to let Final Fantasy X be a memory. But I doubt Square-Enix shares my sentiments, so at least Final Fantasy VII Remake will keep them busy for a few more years so I can just dread the idea of Final Fantasy X-3 written in the 2020s until that fateful day comes.