We live in disturbing times. No, I am not making any sort of political or general societal reference, as such things are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. What matters, as we all know (and by ‘all’ I of course refer to the readers of this fine website), is the video game industry. And what a state it is in! To say that things have looked better for video games is an understatement that does not even begin to address the sickening and depraved clusterfuck of the current scene. We live now in the era of Cup Noodle, and it is a repulsive thing to behold. Nothing is sacred, and almost everything is shit. Utter shit. Are you still with me? Good! Then read on as I vent in editorial form.
To pick one significant year as an example, 1997 was one that certainly sparked change in the video game industry. It saw the release of Final Fantasy VII, considered by many to be the greatest of all RPGs (this opinion certainly being universal among all but the most fat-headed and lecherous dregs of society), and a game that would become the benchmark for production quality in the then-young 3D console era. The previous installment had been released on the Super NES, and while a timelessly beautiful game itself, the scope and breathtaking beauty of FFVII was a life-changing experience for fans of the long-running Japanese role-playing series.
But the obsession with 3D visuals, and Squaresoft’s own growing fascination with pre-rendered cinematic “cut-scenes”, began to draw focus away from what video games should have always been about: gameplay. Certainly, Final Fantasy VII was – and is – a tremendous game, with a gripping story, outstanding turn-based battle system, excellent gameplay mechanics, and a scope that took every bit of three PlayStation discs to realize. But where FFVII was first and foremost a great game that also happened to look incredible, a growing number of games that followed would focus far too strongly on appearance, and offer far less compelling gameplay than FFVII.
As time passed this became more problematic, and by the time of the “next-generation” consoles (including the Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox, Sega Dreamcast, and Nintendo GameCube), far too many game developers seemed content to release something that simply offered reasonable-looking 3D models and textures and not much else. Take the original Xbox as a prime example; looking back even today there are virtually no worthwhile titles that one would need such a system for. It is pretty sad when a console was primarily used to play disposable annual sports games and one very popular shooter (which was also available on PC and Mac), but such is the legacy of Xbox. (No, I cannot recall ANY OTHER game in any specific genre covered almost exclusively at this website that might have been released on that first Microsoft game console. None.)
I used Final Fantasy VII as an example because it was a tremendously successful game, and as such became quite influential. The video game industry is like any other: successful ideas are stolen, and eventually the market becomes flooded with “me-too” products that are mostly pale imitations of the original, successful idea. I could write at length about the computer and smartphone industries, but this website covers video games. FFVII was not by any means the first 3D RPG (though it was the first great 3D RPG), as it was part of the wave of console games on console hardware with the primary selling point of being 3D. And for fans of RPGs just look at what the 3D era brought us! Legendary games like Grandia, The Legend of Dragoon, and eventually even the holy grail itself: Kingdom Hearts! And after entering the 3D realm Square-Enix never looked back, producing other incredible, life-changing games such as Final Fantasy VIII and Brave Fencer Musashi!
Today, so-called “AAA” games are designed to either look good (with no depth or original story to speak of), or make a social/political statement by the pompous fresh-from grad school hipster douchebags who “write” such titles as they slither through their insular little life filled exclusively with like-minded drones. [Editor’s note: most of them do not actually make it to/through grad. school, because hard work is involved there, unlike with an undergraduate degree.] But few “AAA” titles are proper RPGs, and of those we have reached a point where even “good old” Squaresoft – now Square Enix or simply SE – has transformed Final Fantasy into a shameless money grab complete with in-game (I use the term “game” loosely) product placement. FF has become a fashion vehicle for the eccentric man-boys running the establishment, and as long as feckless loyalists continue excusing SE’s shameless behavior and worthless so-called games, justifying the purchase of total garbage because it has the name of a game series that they used to like on the cover, then it will continue. Eventually “Final Fantasy” will just be the name on the tag of overpriced designer leather accessories at a mall boutique, and SE would love it.
It is sad to grow up and realize that the world is actually run by the people who control the most money, and that genuine gameplay is only thought of as a requirement if that is what will sell the most copies of a title. Having a gigantic marketing budget and pushing the game to unwitting buyers is seen to be just as effective as creating something special enough that word of mouth and positive reviews would have sold just as many copies. Spend 25 million on development (mostly graphics and voice acting), and another 25 million on marketing! There you have it. Another “AAA” game is born. (Actually, the real figures are probably much higher.) But as long as it continues to SELL, what is their incentive to CHANGE?
The companies producing big-budget games have done whatever they could think of to prove how anti-consumer they are, with actual contempt for their adoring fans/customers. But do we still shower Nintendo, Square-Enix, Microsoft with our money, and defend our purchases by defensively whining about them online? You bet! It is all bullshit. The industry as we know it is moving in a direction that people who CARE about video games and remembered what they USED TO BE do not want to follow. For now I will look forward to digital re-releases of older games for my Sony systems and future Nintendo Virtual Console (never coming to the Switch – stop waiting) games that will probably never come to my North American Wii U. Kind of a piss-poor state of things, no? You bet!