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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Is this the end for Final Fantasy on Xbox?

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Final Fantasy on Xbox was once but a dream, until the Xbox 360 generation saw Square finally start to show Xbox some love. Now, it feels like that spell might have run its course… have we seen the last of Final Fantasy on Xbox?

Square’s world-famous Final Fantasy JRPG series has gone through many phases. In the early years, it was all about Nintendo, with the first six games launching for the NES/Famicom (I-III) and later the SNES/Super Famicom (IV-VI). But with the advent of disc-based media offering greater storage for bigger worlds and better presentation than before (and at cheaper production costs than cartridges), Final Fantasy VII-XII would migrate the popular series over to PlayStation. Likely not by design, but these cycles have lasted around a decade apiece, with the original dropping in 1987, FFVII arriving in 1997, then with the delayed release of Final Fantasy XIII arriving a little off-cycle in 2009… but for the first time taking the franchise to multiple consoles from launch. Until fairly recently, it seemed like FF had escaped its exclusivity, de facto or otherwise, to become a cross-platform brand no longer stuck on one system. All this left us wondering what might happen after multiplatform, nearly-good RPG Final Fantasy XV as we entered the next phase of the cycle.

And then Final Fantasy VII Remake happened.

Today, it certainly feels like Square is taking Final Fantasy back to the PlayStation camp, with activity across the franchise suggesting it even though nobody seems willing to actually say as much. That’s far from the only red flag for FF fans on Xbox, though, so let’s dive into some of the things that make us suspect that we might not be seeing much, if any, FF action on Xbox for a while…

FFVII Remake is never coming to Xbox, is it?

We’ve spoken before about the ongoing debacle that is Final Fantasy VII Remake on Xbox, and we’re still no closer to getting any proper answers than we were when the first part of the remake launched exclusively for PS4 nearly three years ago. Initially announced as a timed Sony exclusive for at least 12 months, this deal was then seemingly extended when the trailer for the PS5 version also mentioned an additional six-month exclusivity period. The enhanced remake did eventually come to PC, hitting the Epic Games Store once the six months was up then Steam a full year after hitting PS5, but still not a peep about the possibility of an Xbox release. It’s unclear whether Sony may have paid for any further extension to prevent it from appearing on other consoles, or if Square simply decided that a port arriving now so late in the day likely wouldn’t make enough money to be viable, especially in the wake of FFVIIR being a headliner on PlayStation Plus and streamable on PC with the service — it’s safe to say that many fans who want to play it probably have at this point, limiting the market for another version.

It could still be that FFVII Remake may come to Xbox in the future, of course. The reimagined classic is set to be split across three releases, leading some to believe that we could see the full thing when it’s all complete while Sony puts out the individual parts in the meantime as console exclusives — the second part, Rebirth, is already confirmed to be another timed PS5 exclusive. But with everything else going on with the series at the moment and how it feels like both franchise and publisher might be moving away from Xbox, it’s hard to cling on to hope for something like that happening, especially when the first part of the remake trilogy will be the best part of a decade old by the time it’s all wrapped up. At this point, it’s probably safer to assume that FFVIIR on Xbox just isn’t happening… at least that way it’ll be a nice surprise if it one day does show up.

Surely Final Fantasy XIV would have happened by now if it was going to

Hit MMO Final Fantasy XIV makes bank for Square, with millions of players still loving life in and around Eorzea almost a decade after A Realm Reborn first turned around the fortunes of the online game following its initial grim 2010 launch. Chatter around FFXIV coming to Xbox has been swirling almost that entire time, although several reasons have been suggested for why a port of a game this absolutely massive hasn’t happened. These have including a lack of official cross-play support when the game first launched which would have divided console players, and the additional cost of Xbox Live on top of the game’s subscription fee, though Sony has already proven the latter to be easily circumvented simply by not requiring the console online sub for this particular game, but again, that’s not something that was common in the early years of FFXIV. The MMO is arguably in a better state than it has ever been today, with ongoing work to the Main Scenario Quest (MSQ) to trim the fat and make it a better experience for newcomers, and the later expansions and endgame content are superb.

Xbox boss Phil Spencer stated a few years back that talks were ongoing with director Naoki Yoshida’s team to bring the MMO to Xbox, and reiterated that statement last year in another interview suggesting that talks might still be ongoing. It’s never too late to welcome more Warriors of Light/Darkness to Eorzea and with all the improvements that have been made to the main story that has now wrapped after four huge expansions (future expansions will begin a new chapter), XIV is in a great place to offer a full epic online adventure from day one for new Xbox players if it ever does happen. But once again, is there a danger that the franchise seemingly pulling out of MS territory might throw yet another spanner in the works, even though crossplay is a pretty common thing nowadays? I also can’t help but wonder whether Microsoft might be worried about stepping on the toes of its own The Elder Scrolls Online bringing in a critically acclaimed MMORPG with an expanded free trial which lets you play through the entirety of A Realm Reborn and the award-winning Heavensward expansion up to level 60 for free with no restrictions on playtime. Copypasta memeing aside, FFXIV is amazing and I’d love to see it on Xbox, having put thousands of hours into the game across three generations of PlayStation consoles, but outside of Spencer reiterating that he wants it to happen, almost a decade into the game’s life, there’s still nothing to report on this front.

Final Fantasy XVI is another ‘timed’ PlayStation exclusive

Looking forward to later this year, there’s another ‘timed exclusive’ Final Fantasy game coming in June… but this time, it’s a mainline game. It’s one thing to drop spin-offs, remasters, remakes, and whatever else on any platforms you like but after having multiple main series releases go multiplatform, returning to a single format future for the next chapter can’t help but feel like a statement of intent. Final Fantasy XVI will be a timed PS5 exclusive, although series fans who have been following the FFVII Remake situation likely know to take those words with an entire shaker of salt. Even Yoshi-P joked that fans should just “buy a PS5” rather than wait for the new game to arrive on other systems (as if buying a PS5 is even something you can just wake up and decide to do) so it doesn’t sound like this round will go a whole lot better than the last for FF fans on Xbox.

Granted, FF’s nature of telling self-contained stories means it can go anywhere and each new game should be able to hold up on its own merits, as it has been able to do for decades. But speaking of decades, maybe we could be about to see what the fourth actually looks like for FF, having bounced from Nintendo to Sony to multiformat and now, seemingly, heading back to the PlayStation scene where the franchise truly blew up. Sony and Square have seemed especially tight of late, with not only FFVIIR but new IP Forspoken getting picked up as PS exclusives, but it remains to be seen what this means for the future of FF… will we ever actually see FFXVI on Xbox, or is this just going to be Remake all over again with years of awkward wording that leads nowhere? If I hadn’t already, I’d be taking Yoshi-P’s advice to just “buy a PS5…”

Xbox Game Pass is down to its last Final Fantasy game

Basically all of the mainline Final Fantasy games that have appeared on Xbox — VII, VIII, IX, X/X-2, XII, the XIII trilogy, and XV, so only missing MMO FFXI which closed down years ago on 360 — have also found their way into Game Pass in recent years, and while there was once a solid library of FF classics among the best games on Game Pass for JRPG fans to enjoy in the service, we’re now down to just one. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is the only game in the series left in Game Pass, the final game in its trilogy and a divisive single-character twist on the usual formula. And even that probably won’t be around for long, given that it joined last March and the previous games only stuck around for around 12 months, so it seems likely that it’ll only be a matter of weeks before we go from having a bunch of FF titles in Game Pass to having precisely zero. Meanwhile, look over the fence at the PlayStation Plus library and you’ll find that entire ‘modern’ run of the series (with the exception of the XIII trilogy, possibly a result of Sony’s ongoing struggle to understand how its own PS3 actually works), as well as the FFVII remake. There’s nothing in the Nintendo Switch Online retro collection either, mind, but in an ecosystem where players seem perfectly fine with shelling out for the same classics time and again, you can’t really begrudge Square for doing the same as the platform holder with its own games.

Games come and go from Game Pass all the time, so on its own, this might not be such a big deal. But when you’ve got one of the biggest MMOs in the world locked to Sony consoles, the multi-part remake of the franchise’s most beloved game also exclusive to PlayStation, and the series’ next mainline release heading there as another console exclusive, it’s hard to feel like this isn’t part of something bigger. To not only be missing out on the remake of the fan-favourite FFVII on Xbox but also to see the original leave Game Pass within weeks of the remake landing on PS5 was a little galling, however coincidental. And it isn’t just the old games that seem to be stepping out of the spotlight on Xbox either — the odd low-key exception aside, there also seems to be minimal interest in bringing more recent non-mainline releases to Xbox.

Even the spin-offs and collections are skipping Xbox

Put down the pitchforks, Stranger of Paradise stans — yes, Team Ninja’s edgy action prequel to the original Final Fantasy did indeed get some Xbox love last year, although that in itself is weird. What is the prequel to a game that has never existed on Xbox doing here when series-wide love-ins like Dissidia and Theatrhythm haven’t been given a look-in? The latter is especially topical with the latest version of the musical celebration of all things FF, Theatrhythm Final Bar Line, launching in February for Switch and PS4. Given how much time I put into the 3DS versions, this is likely to be one of my most-played games of the year and it’s honestly a bit gutting to see this one skip Xbox, especially after the inferior Kingdom Hearts equivalent made the cut with 2020’s Melody of Memory. But at the same time, it’s not just that one game, and there’s an even bigger snub in the works.

I’m talking about the Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster series, which includes enhanced versions of the first six games in the franchise and is set to release on pretty much everything except Xbox in the next few months. The six games are all on PC and mobile already but will arrive on (most) consoles soon, and unless I’m completely underestimating the process, bringing simple 8- and 16-bit classics like these to all modern platforms bar Xbox can’t help but feel pointed and intentional. This is the series’ very foundation, games that are as important as slices of history as much as some of them are still genuinely amazing, and given that they’ve been on countless other systems in the past, it’s a bit crazy that Square wouldn’t want even more players to experience or relive the formative years of the franchise, especially if the plan was to expand on the universe further in the future.

Now look, I don’t want to come across as a prophet of doom here, but when things align like this, it’s hard to see a future for Final Fantasy on Xbox. We’re still lacking one of Square’s most successful ongoing games in FFXIV, we’re set to miss out on mainline series entries (FFXVI) and remakes of the most popular game in the series (FFVII), and even the lesser games don’t seem to want to show up around these parts anymore. Sure, we got a remaster of a half-decent PSP game as some kind of weird consolation prize late last year with Crisis Core, and I am actually looking forward to sampling Stranger of Paradise’s nonsense at some point, but neither is really a big enough deal to suggest that the series has a future on Xbox. If anything, if that’s all we’re getting, it’s the opposite. Looking forwards, there is currently nothing Final Fantasy on the horizon for Xbox — a first for many years now that Stranger in Paradise’s DLC is done — so until Square decides to tell us otherwise, we probably shouldn’t expect to see Final Fantasy on Xbox again any time soon.

What do you think? Will Final Fantasy return to Xbox in the future, or was the decent run we had all we will get? Let us know down in the comments!


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