In a recent report, it was revealed that Square-Enix is seeking fan input as to whether Final Fantasy XV should feature a “happy” or “super bad” ending. As someone that found FFXV enjoyable despite its flaws and subversion of classic FF structure, I take umbrage with this. I believe that creators should be free to express themselves according to their own vision. Art and general creativity is an expression of oneself, and video games are no exception regardless of what some individuals have expressed in the past.
In order to bring context to this situation, we’ll need to dig in to the ending to Final Fantasy XV itself. Obviously, there are major spoilers ahead, so please stop reading now if you haven’t finished the game.
After the final battle against Ardyn Izunia, Noctis, the main character of Final Fantasy XV dies. As a proverbial pig to the slaughter, it was his destiny to sacrifice himself to rid the world of the “star scourge”. This dark entity brought daemons into the world through the machinations of Ardyn, and threatens to envelop the world in eternal night. It’s here that regardless of your comprehension or enjoyment of the narrative as a whole, the plot reaches its poignant climax. Events preceding Noctis’ demise are rife with sentiment toward the men that he considered to be the brothers he never had or realized he wanted. His resignation that this act is for the greater good weighs on him. He recognizes that it’s the ultimate duty of a king to protect and provide for his subjects. Thus, we’re left with one of the most striking bits of imagery in the entire franchise: an otherworldly Luna laying her head on Noctis’ lap as they admire a photographic keepsake of his life prior (which can lead to some absolutely hilarious results depending on which shot you pick earlier in the game).
This is all around great stuff. I’m not the biggest fan of the narrative tone and direction that Final Fantasy has taken since the 10th entry, but this ending is arguably one of my favorite in the entire run. It seemingly took them years, but they finally created an ending that felt like it was globally appealing again, rather than catering to the otaku crowd that has generally steered the franchise in the last decade.
So what’s the issue exactly? This is the ending that Square felt was appropriate to bring finality to FFXV. The notion that they’re contemplating compromising their vision because there are those unable to come to terms with a melancholic conclusion is troubling to me.
For context, you may recall that back in 2012, Mass Effect 3 sent waves through the industry with an ending that was also a bit on the controversial side. Answers to trilogy-long questions were promised, payoffs were assured, and your emotional attachment to both your character and the galaxy around them would not be squandered.
On the contrary, fans (including myself) were left wanting as we bounced around a loose montage of events that were strikingly similar to all variants available to players. The only notable difference between endings was a swap in color palette. The community was outraged, and it was here that something I had never anticipated happened: Bioware altered the ending sequences regardless of initial defense of their vision. I understood the frustration, but I couldn’t shake the idea that it was all simply blown out of proportion in the end. A story that I had thoroughly enjoyed dropped the ball in its final moments. I just accepted what it was and moved on. However, many didn’t feel the same way, with some approaching federal authorities to press charges against Bioware.
This behavior isn’t exclusive to the gaming industry. Upon its release last December, Star Wars fans around the globe immediately set upon The Last Jedi with levels of hate and vitriol that I haven’t witnessed from a form of popular media to date. I wasn’t a fan of the film (for reasons I may address at a later date), but to say that fans were doing everything within their power to right the wrongs of the divisive installment were an understatement. Currently, a petition to Disney requesting that Episode VIII be removed from canon is closing in on 100,000 signatures. Can you imagine what the era of social media would have done to the prequel trilogy? Meesa tinkin’ tings would be bombad indeed.
We need to foster an industry that takes risks. I understand that this is a business and publishers need to make money. But sacrificing artistic integrity for the sake of investor interest is how we get annualized franchises passed off as “innovation” by awkward executives on convention stages. I’m disheartened and worried for the future of general creativity in today’s culture. Social media and fan interaction are both wonderful tools for creative minds, but instances like these are a clear sign that there’s room for an inherent abuse of power within them. We may find ourselves drawing closer to a time in which you’ll be able to order an experience tailored to your wants like you would at a restaurant. Companies need to make money, and I understand that these changes are driven by that need. I would like to point out however, that at one point all of the minds behind the examples I’ve listed were known for delivering some of the most emotionally diverse and enriching experiences in popular media.
In conclusion, let creators create. Let artistic minds thrive. Invest in creators and outlets that provide you with the experiences and stores that you truly enjoy. And if all else fails? You can always write your own.