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2013: The Year in Review

January 1st, 2014 by Tony Garsow

It’s probably 2014 from where you’re reading, but as we get ready to dive into the new year and anticipate more Final Fantasy releases, news, and announcements — I want to take a look back at a few of the major topics that have come over the course of 2013. If it’s not 2014 where you are yet, sit back and enjoy this article before you move on. Oh — and don’t forget to leave a comment with your own thoughts of the year’s events in Final Fantasy. I’ll be reading them from my spacecar in the world of tomorrow!


It may come as no surprise to fans that may of Square Enix’s new title announcements have been for mobile smartphone devices, including many ports of Final Fantasy titles. The first six in the numbered series are no strangers to ports to other platforms, but recently Square Enix has chosen iOS and Android as their next destination.

It’s not hard to understand why, given the burgeoning market embracing phone and tablet gaming. The traditional Final Fantasy audience may more accustomed to interacting with the games on a device with buttons, but the adapted interfaces get the job done well enough. While these enhanced ports may be a little less than perfect (tile seams on backgrounds and rather off-looking sprites), it can be argued that each subsequent port has had its own inconsistencies. Recall the load times on the PlayStation versions and the poor sound quality on the GameBoy Advance. The mobile backlog of Final Fantasy titles is solid enough for anyone to become acquainted with Final Fantasy antiquity — old and new fans alike.

This doesn’t excuse Square Enix for slipping up on the port job, but I think it’s one longtime fans have come to peace with as time elapsed. If you’re not a fan of the mobile gaming, odds are you can find ports of these games on more agreeable platforms including the PlayStation Network or Virtual Console. Just some insider info between you and me: the TI-86 graphing calculator port of Final Fantasy III is coming out next year — the sprites are only one color!

With Final Fantasy V recently released and Final Fantasy VI on the way, it begs a question as we approach the new year: what may be ported next?

Of course, the year hasn’t been without controversy with regard to mobile titles like All the Bravest and Airborne Brigade. Many fans bemoaned the former of these titles as completely joyless cash-ins that devalued the nostalgic qualities of the franchise, and as a long-time fan it’s really not hard to disagree. All the Bravest and Airborne Brigade’s over-reliance on micro-transactions (as is the “mobile card game” genre’s intent by design) are disheartening when the games themselves are remarkably shallow.

It’s a bit unclear how Square Enix Japan will decide to proceed regarding future mobile titles, but my personal take is that this revolution will last for some time. If the company can create Final Fantasy experiences in the same vein as their console and hand-held iterations, yet appropriate for a mobile device, then it may yet be worth seeing where this revolution is heading.


Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII won’t reach North American or European shores until February, but the third and final XIII title will close a significant part of the Final Fantasy series elapsing for more than five years. Obviously this means different things for different people in the fandom as the original Final Fantasy XIII and its subsequent sequels have been more contentious than series entries in the past.

For some it’s a send-off to a series of games they’ve anticipated and enjoyed for years, while others mark it as a long-overdue turning point towards the next chapter of the numbered series. While Lightning Returns is very much a third game in a series, it is by no means similar aside from the universe in which it inhabits. Many gameplay systems from its predecessors have been replaced to create a different kind of XIII game — particularly one that relies on non-linear exploration, a more action-oriented combat system, and detailed character customization.

If there’s one criticism against Final Fantasy XIII and its sequels that falls flat it is the unwillingness to change its formula. While these changes were a bit half-baked in the second game, it looks like Lightning Returns is a more honest attempt at mixing things up — even if it lacks the visual glamor and polish of the sub-franchise. However, a Final Fantasy exploring different types of gameplay mechanics is why I’m anticipating the North American release early next year.


2013 marked the seventh anniversary of Final Fantasy Versus XIII‘s debut at E3, and Square Enix saw fit to re-reveal the game as the next numbered title in the franchise. Jumping the PS3 ship and heading to next-generation consoles like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Final Fantasy XV curiously retains its “Fabula Nova Crystallis” lore connection with the XIII series while shedding the number from its title.

Since E3 we’ve had a pretty scarce smattering of updates from the project, despite a previous comment from Final Fantasy producer Shinji Hashimoto to Famitsu that “the dishonest days of withholding information about games in development for months is at an end”. In a very recent interview around this year’s Jump Festa, director Tetsuya Nomura the same outlet that Square Enix is waiting for the right time to deliver more information.

The confusion from Square Enix has led many to speculate that the project’s development is yet again in trouble and that the team may simply not have anything meaningful to show for it since this year’s E3. Without a clear idea of when we’ll see any more updates on the game, it seems that 2014 may start off leaving fans in the dark.


If there’s any spot that shines the brightest in 2013 – and arguably the last several years – it’s Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Originally released in 2010, the Version 1.0 was an unmitigated disaster on pretty much all fronts. A critical failure and laughingstock, it was clear that the title would become a blemish on the franchise’s history had Square Enix left it as it was. Maybe it was the logical thing to do as a business. But I’m sure as hell glad they didn’t.

A staff shakeup saw the introduction of Naoki Yoshida, a relative nobody in Square Enix Japan who worked largely on small Dragon Quest projects before joining Final Fantasy XIV. It was then that the team drew up plans to completely redo the game while simultaneously updating the original version to something playable and relatively enjoyable in the meantime.

What resulted was a massive effort by Square Enix and the XIV team to do what is pretty much unthinkable in the MMO market: reboot a failed game. As A Realm Reborn‘s development continued, Yoshida and the team provided regular and timely updates in the form of “Letter from the Producer” — a series of written and live broadcasts that continue to this day. This level of insight into a Final Fantasy game in development was unprecedented. As fans began to rally around Yoshida’s vision of a new Final Fantasy XIV, many once-spurned players decided to give it a second chance – so much so that the team underestimated the interest in the game and suffered from heavy launch congestion. Congestion problems that, since two weeks after launch, have been resolved.

It’s true that A Realm Reborn borrows a lot of its staples from contemporaries in the subscription-based MMO market, but it doesn’t simply add it with the “me-tooism” you may expect in games today. It seeks to refine these within its own terms. The result of this is a game that is one of the least cynical Square Enix Japan has put out in recent years.

Elements of Final Fantasy games past aren’t added merely to appeal and appease fans of games past, nor are they put into the game to clear one more line on the “This Goes Into Final Fantasy” checklist. They are celebrated and given their own meaning within XIV. Working to obtain your first chocobo through a Grand Company and fighting alongside it in battle, or the difficult trials against the pantheon of Primals (Final Fantasy series Summons). They aren’t just pretty and fleeting things you see outside the train window on your way through the game, they are part of the experience.

Your evolution from Level 1 to 50 is a gradual transformation into an iconic Final Fantasy job, which is reinforced both in gameplay and your character’s appearance. You aren’t given Black Mage in XIV at the beginning, you get to become the Black Mage with enough time and effort. These touches show a team of developers that not only respect the franchise and what’s within, but are seeking to improve its representation of Final Fantasy themes in ways that fans can appreciate. That, and it seems like they just plain have fun making this game.

While I may be talking a lot of about elements of Final Fantasy in XIV, make no mistake that the game as a whole feels as unique as one might expect from previous titles. This is in part to a scenario that is well-written and executed, even if it has to make way for the more game-ified nature of MMORPGs at times. While it is a very “classic” Final Fantasy-feeling story, it has succeeded in making me feel like Eorzea (and Hydaelyn by extension) is always a world I want to explore in land and lore.

It also helps that the world is damn gorgeous, and unlike many other games in its genre both new and upcoming, is colorful and lively without being colors splashed haphazardly on a canvas. You know someone on the map team “gets it” when you enter many of the games zones and instantly lock on to a strikingly beautiful landscape before you. I like you, map guy or gal. You get a “Good Job!” sticker.

All in all: Final Fantasy XIV‘s release and subsequent success have made me happy as a Final Fantasy fan in a year of uncertainty and concern for the franchise. I consider it the best development of 2013. In the future, I want it to grow to be more comfortable in its skin and try some interesting new things within the genre. A Realm Reborn is a wonderful base to start off with, and with the current staff behind it, I hope they can create even more memorable experiences. If you’re still apprehensive, give it a shot. It’s probably going to be a good long while before we get another numbered Final Fantasy.

I understand MMORPGs aren’t everyone’s thing, but I think Final Fantasy XIV is definitely worth its number. It’s earned it in my book. I say this only because I often overhear chatter about how either Final Fantasy XI or Final Fantasy XIV are undeserving of a number due to their genre. I’ve never felt more comfortable with either game fitting snugly between single-player entries. Given a chance, both games have (and in different ways) become just as memorable as either game exemplifies the qualities of what make the series great. The only difference is to factor in your friends and other fans.

Final Fantasy XIV‘s first major content patch “A Realm Awoken” hit just a few weeks ago with an impressive load of new features. Admittedly some of these were cut out of the game’s launch as they weren’t ready, but its nevertheless given Eorzeans a bevy of options for content to play when they log in.

Over the course of 2014 we’ll be seeing more content patches like A Realm Awoken about every three months, including a PlayStation 4 version to anticipate. Patch 2.2 in March/April-ish will be our true bellwether for the amount of quality content Team XIV can put out, but it already says something when I’m chomping at the bit for the January Letter which will tell us more about it. If the team is able to stay close to a schedule of a patch every three months, it’s safe to say that I’ll be enthralled with Final Fantasy XIV for some time to come.

Until then, Twintania Mania.

Hey, where’d my group go!?



  • Happy New Year to everyone and the team at Final Fantasy Network! Thank you for being the most reliable source of information about our beloved franchise!

    A few things I would like to address, firstly in regards to this review, then about Final Fantasy itself. I felt as though there was a lot of mention about XIV comparatively to the rest. I do realize that 2013 was definitely XIV’s year, especially if you consider how much Square-Enix tried to “get it out there” and show it to the world, but still the rest of the information that we got about other games wasn’t at the least bit scarce. And not even a single mention about (what some people even call their favorite game in the franchise, or even ever) X HD? That’s coming in a couple of months as well, and it might end up bigger than LR!

    As for the franchise, I daresay 2013 was the rebirth of Final Fantasy. Claiming it’s position in the MMO realm, preparing for next-gen with impressive games, ending a trilogy that stayed with us for 5 years (I can’t believe it’s been so long though) and bringing back nostalgic settings with upgraded designs and melodies… I daresay we have a whole lot to expect from the franchise just in the first few months of this year!

    And yet, despite the wide variety of games we’ll have by March, we still have XV to anticipate.

    The moment I won’t forget from FF in 2013 wasn’t actually a gaming moment, like in 2012. I remember live-streaming the Sony Conference at E3. It must’ve been about 5 o’clock in the morning where I live. When suddenly the logo “Square-Enix” appears on the video wall during the presentation and Nomura shows up. I think I’m not alone when I say that I had my jaw dropped on the floor during that entire video and when that “Versus XIII” shattered to become “XV” and give the game an official main-game status, I was doing my best not to cheer like a fanboy. I like the XIII games, can’t wait to re-live X, but seriously, the juice is in XV. Happy New Year everyone and may the Fantasy carry on strong!

  • Daniel Masterson

    I totally agree with everything you said! When that video of XV showed up I almost cried. I just wanted to see something, anything. When Final Fantasy Versus XIII smashes and reveals that it is now FF XV it blew me away but if you notice during that they are saying “The legend meets its match but the world is ever changing for the fifteenth coming” I thought this was very humble for Square Enix to say, not that they should apologize for any game they make but it shows that they made a misstep and that last gen was very hard for them as a company and hopefully it can get better as this new gen goes along! Here is to 2014 for Square!

  • AnimaMagna

    That E3 video was the greatest shock of all. Square Enix appears to be going through a second coming, and not before time. I’m sad and glad that Lightning Returns has been released, and am looking forward to 2014. I’m absolutely sure that this is the year Square Enix will gradually win back its alienated fans.