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Stop mixing my drinks

posted on November 10th, 2006 by chris

So I was playing Final Fantasy XII for the first time when I noticed the game had a lot of concepts that look like they came from science fiction. Ships looking like they came from Star Wars fly around in the intro, shield-like barriers are being used to protect cities, that kind of stuff.

This wouldn’t really bother me that much, but it seems like regular medieval fantasy has become a lost art. Final Fantasy gradually made the transition from medieval to steampunk-esque to post-apocalyptic to an improbable-looking science fiction. I would have no problem with this transition normally — on the contrary, more science fiction RPGs would be nice too. But the story and atmosphere most of the time remain in the fantasy style. Why are people running around with swords and bows when it looks like ships – and I might’ve seen a laser once or twice – could do a lot more of the work?

It’s a bird… no, it’s a plane! No… well, maybe it is. When do we get electricity again?

It seems like the sci-fi was sort of tacked on, just to make the game look shinier. I’m really enjoying the game, but it just seems incongruous. It takes a lot to make a game kill my suspended disbelief, but they did it.

It isn’t just FFXII, either. It seems like shiny sci-fi injected into fantasy is a trend. True, some series have been doing it for a while – Star Ocean, for example – but even Wild Arms 4 dealt with nanotechnology, genetic experimentation, etc. as well, which was a complete departure from the series. Tales of Symphonia had similar sci-fi technology, although it tends to work it in to the plot better.

In fact, I think the Suikodens and Dragon Quest were the only recent RPG games I played without super-high-tech tossed in someplace. The former has effectively created a world without said tech and thankfully hasn’t randomly departed from it, while the latter has stuck to the fantasy formula from day one.

Is this merging of genres just coincidence, or is it a plan to try and net both fantasy and sci-fi fans with the same game? It could just be that several developers happened to want to try it at once. I’m hoping that’s the case and I’m just going paranoid, but there still seems to be the chance that it’s an attempt to make the game appeal to more people. To me, it seems like trying to mix peanut butter and fish. They’re nice enough on their own, but together I can’t see it working out too well. Does classic fantasy on its own just not enough to sell a game? Or is it me being old-fashioned and just not catching on to what’s cool? I loved the fantasy in Dragon Quest VIII – the atmosphere was unified and kept interesting through the voice-acting and style. Meanwhile, in FFXII, I’m just waiting for some ninja to leap out of the shadows in a scene and try to assassinate a pirate captain, a robot, and possibly a monkey to ensure that all possible “cool” bases are being covered.

This trend isn’t one-way, either. The only sci-fi series I recall offhand, Xenosaga, added a samurai character in the second entry. Apparently swords in space are an in-thing nowadays.

All I know is, if Suikoden VI randomly has spaceships all over the place and nanotechnology, I’m going to go completely nuts.

9 Comments

  1. TrueTallus said on November 10, 2006:

    I hear that!  While the examples you list don’t throw me (FFT had robots so a game with mechanical stuff set in the same world doesn’t bother me and the first Wild Arms was steeped in a backdrop of ancient machines), its really irritating when it seems like sci-fi elements are thrown in for no good reason (I’m looking at you Okami).

  2. Matt said on November 10, 2006:

    Yeah, I can see what you’re saying that the two styles are starting to blend, but hopefully that’s because they are trying to expand out from that tired D&D-style that has been going on since the very first RPG. The only thing that needs to be paid attention to is the cohesiveness. If the one style is just a filler for effects, then that’s a waste. I was recently watching Advent Children, and enjoy that they still use swords to fight when everyone seems to have guns. It’s a stylistic choice, but they counter it enough that guns aren’t the best choice to fight with. Especially when you have a sword that holds 6 smaller swords in its blade, like Cloud’s.

  3. pat said on November 10, 2006:

    if you are talking about the scenes in okami i think you are then i think i disagree (bamboo girl?).  thats completely based on a real japanese myth.  search the girls name in wiki or something and you’ll see it.  it seemed out of place at the time to me as well until i figured that out.  of course if you are talking about something else, then this is irrelevant.  and you stole some of my thunder.  i was about to say i liked the fantasy setting with some rediscovered old technology (see: "a canticle for leibowitz") but thats clearly not at play in something like ff12. 

  4. chris said on November 10, 2006:

    Yeah.  I enjoy the ancient technology stuff a lot – if it’s undiscovered or recently unearthed it sort of makes sense, but when it’s widespread it gets to be silly when everyone has it but they don’t follow it through to other elements of the game.

  5. GoldenJew said on November 11, 2006:

    This isn’t a new trend in FF– it started in 6 kinda, and definately 7.  One could argue that it’s dumb because a gun is never going to do 56 hp (appearing in a white number under your character)… it’s probably going to straight up kill you.  But that lack of realism never bothered me.  I’m with Chris, it’s the style issue that’s upsetting.  I mean, why the hell do you ride a goddamn chocobo in battle when you could fly what is essentially a star wars fighter (in the FF12 world)?My memory is a bit hazy, but wasn’t 9 and 10 gunless, or at least less gun filled?  And 11 as well.   Remember in Dune the personal shields stopped weapons but not swords… and I’ve seen that in other series.  That makes sense, at least.    

  6. chris said on November 11, 2006:

    9 and 10 were pretty much gunless.  9 was sorta more medieval-ish and in 10 pretty much the only machines were ancient ones brought back by the Al Bhed (or the usual corrupt officials).  I never really played 9 or 10 that much, though.  8 had lots of technology, but at least the gun-blade thing sort of made sense.

  7. Matt said on November 11, 2006:

    I only wished the gun-blade actually had a "gun" function. All it did was LOOK like a gun. And there was no way in Hell it could fire, because of the barrel being covered by the blade. It looked badass and is  creative, but it didn’t do anything other than being a blade with a gun handle. 

  8. DeeMer said on November 13, 2006:

    There is kind of a gun function to the gunblade.  If you pressed R1 while attacking an enemy, you’d get an automatic critical hit.  This represents the gun part firing.

  9. TrueTallus said on November 13, 2006:

    Thanks for the heads up about Okami, pat.  That was what I was reffering to, so it makes a bit more sense now.  Maybee they should have mentioned that in the manual, like they did for the moon rabit constellation.  Or did they?  Hmm… I’ll have to check that out tonight.  By the way, didn’t FF9 have nearly the EXACT same airship technology as FF12?  Right down to mist stones, jet propulsion, and cannons?  As I recall, airships had the same limitations even, in that there were lots of places they couldn’t travel because mist levels weren’t high enough.  And there were certainly plenty of guns in FFX-2, though I’m not sure how much that reflects FFX.

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