Roughly one year ago, Square-Enix released two games: one, the refined version of an attempt to bring their flagship series into a new generation; the other, ostensibly not a Final Fantasy game at all, but a fresh start with a new series, drawing on their roots. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII and Bravely Default released within the same week of one another in North America, almost forcing a comparison between the two.
It’s true that Square-Enix did something remarkable with Bravely Default—they made a Final Fantasy game without any of the twenty-five years of baggage and expectations that are associated with the name. Despite SE’s claims to the contrary, however, Bravely Default is a Final Fantasy in everything but name. As an RPG with job classes, airships, a large overworld map, a four character party, and a crystal-centric narrative, all it’s missing are a Cid and some chocobos.
Then, there was Lightning Returns, with the almost impossible task of redeeming two games that Western gamers were decrying as the the “death of Final Fantasy,” despite no one actually agreeing what constitutes a “true” installment of the series, while Bravely Default was praised for its old-school Final Fantasy feel. In fandom tradition, opinions became polarized and extreme, and the games were raised up as examples: Lightning Returns was everything that was wrong with the series, and Bravely Default was a chance to start again. Bravely Default was the future of Final Fantasy.
But if we are to take seriously the comparisons between these two games, and present each as an option for the future of Final Fantasy (and, subsequently, JRPGs as a whole), then I sincerely hope that it is Lightning Returns that Square-Enix decides to emulate.