There was a distinctly defensive attitude about Square Enix's much-touted "Future of Final Fantasy" conference. And, some would argue, rightly so. After the disaster that was the launch of the massively multiplayer online Final Fantasy XIV, the fan backlash over the linear nature of Final Fantasy XIII, and the departure of president Yoichi Wada after an "extraordinary" financial loss, is it any wonder the company had to reassure fans of its future?
"Final Fantasy has always been a focus of attention," Square Enix CEO Yosuke Matsuda told the packed room. "With all these strong titles in our lineup, we would like to reassert how important Final Fantasy is. We are making every effort to measure up to fans' expectations."
And he didn't stop there, even referencing the atrocious financials and changing of the guard at the company. "Since last fiscal year with the news of our earnings call and changing CEO, I'm sorry that we've caused many worries. With E3 2013 as our base point, we will vigorously push forward in a stronger and bigger way."
So far, so apologetic then. But when it comes to the Final Fantasy series at least, the company is now in a better place. The reveal of Final Fantasy XV (formally Versus XIII) was a highlight of Sony's already impressive press conference, drawing huge cheers from fans. And it's an impressive game in action, even if we've had to wait far too long to see it.
It is, however, very different to previous games in the series. The action takes place entirely in real time, with none of the command-based combat that Final Fantasy is famed for. Protagonist Noctis leaps around the environment with aplomb, uses walls to take cover, and unleashes brutal-looking sword attacks while climbing up the sides of buildings, or gliding across the city. On the surface at least, FFXV appears to offer much more freedom of movement, and that can only be a good thing for a series that has been so keen recently to limit what the player can do.
"If FFXV were the only thing going for Square Enix, I'd argue it would be enough."
If FFXV were the only thing going for Square Enix, I'd argue it would be enough (just watch the gameplay demo above!), but every single game that the company showed off at its conference looked impressive. Kingdom Hearts III has crisp, colourful visuals and levels brand new to the series; Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns has a satisfying new combat system; and Final Fantasy X HD, Final Fantasy X-2, and Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX all look fantastic in HD. And yes, even the much maligned Final Fantasy XIV put on a good show: its clean UI and control system on the PlayStation is a thing of beauty. There has clearly been a shakedown at Square Enix, and its games--and by extension, its fans--are reaping the benefits.
Of course, there's still a chance that Final Fantasy XV could be stuck in development hell for another seven years. And with Final Fantasy XIV, any goodwill that game once had may have been lost forever. But there's hope that at next year's E3, Square Enix won't be apologising to its fans. Instead, maybe its games will be so good that its fans will be apologising for ever doubting it in the first place.