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I think I speak for most of the gaming community when I express my pity for anyone who's never experienced a good game or two. Many are the times I've gifted my girlfriend with an in-depth lecture on the ins and outs of the Final Fantasy VII continuity, met every time with cold indifference. Admittedly, I enjoy telling that story far too much to care if anyone’s listening or not, but it’s a tragic shame that so many people can’t get lost in video game storylines that, in all honesty, do a better job of telling stories than most movies I’ve ever seen. Final Fantasy in particular is 30 years of Japanese narrative magic that utterly deserves far more gold screen time than its been allowed thus far, especially considering the state of today's film industry, where writers and filmmakers seem to be so devoid of original ideas that we’ve seen a huge spike in re-emerged franchises from the 80s and 90s just to fill that creative gap. Films like Jurassic Park, Star Wars and Independence Day have spontaneously popped back into our lives like unannounced remnants of an adolescent love affair. If there is a void in Hollywood’s creative works, I can think of a far less exploited source of inspiration.
Let me lay the cards on the table—I swear, it’s not just the fact that I want to see all my favourite Final Fantasy characters as colossal depictions on a cinema screen that drives me to write an article like this. Rather, I reckon a fully-budgeted Final Fantasy movie franchise is truly a utopian concept; I can’t imagine a more amazing way of telling those stories to my girlfriend than such a mutual format, especially considering the older text-based entries to the Final Fantasy tapestry aren't at all compelling to most non-gamers. The compromise of a video game movie adaption is, when done well, fantastic. To a certain extent, I’m already being permitted that dream with the impending Metal Gear Solid movie, but Metal Gear’s story is so convoluted that it itself would need to take the form of a Lord of the Rings-esque trilogy just to tell the whole story. That’s the reason why so many attempts at video game and anime adaptions have failed so spectacularly in the past—those stories demand respect. Movies like Warcraft, Death Note and Dragonball held so much promise since those stories are not only goldmines of narrative content but also utterly adored by fans, and the producers behind those movies sacrificed all that awesome potential for a single, easy sell. Final Fantasy’s existing movie presence makes that point with Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, which, whilst it is only a single movie tactically evades the issue by continuing the story in an all-new, much shorter chapter. And there’s the logic—the only way to adapt a game into a meaningful movie is to give the story room to breathe, and really tell the full tale.
But therein lies another fantastic notion—why not a trilogy? Why not create a well-produced, well-funded industry of video game adaptions that broaden a game’s audience to the whole world? The Harry Potter franchise took an entire eight films to reach the end of the narrative, and even then you always hear people complaining that they missed things out from the books. A good story just simply takes more than two hours to tell, which is why I’m sceptical of the upcoming Metal Gear movie, and why in the event a Final Fantasy movie does become a reality, it would need to be a colossal campaign. The Dissidia franchise especially could establish a lucrative existence as a film series by following in the footsteps of the likes of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, with each character getting individual attention before ultimately coming together in a single cross-over movie to complete the story. The potential is there!
Conveniently, each Final Fantasy game’s story has a very simple, very straightforward underlaying structure: good guys travel the world to vanquish the bad guy and save the day; Cloud travels the world to stop Sephiroth wiping out the planet, Noctis travels the world to reclaim the throne from Ardyn, Terra travels the world to stop Kefka from enslaving the population—it’s a very common contextual path, used in almost every fantasy movie in history. I'm calling on Lord of the Rings a lot here after all because it’s just that good a reference; not only does it follow that same basic pattern, but it essentially is a western Final Fantasy story. Imagine a Final Fantasy XV movie told in the style of Tolkien, for example, and you’ve got the foundation of an award winning big-screen trilogy right there.
On top of that basic structure, each game is told in three main chapters (often clearly elucidated by a displacing “switch to disk 2” screen). Here’s Final Fantasy VII, for example—the first chapter puts Cloud & co. in the spotlight as they set off round the world to catch Sephiroth, ending at the Northern Cave with Tifa falling into a week-long coma. The second chapter then follows Tifa and Cid as they search for Cloud and ends when he wakes up, before the final chapter sends Cloud and friends once again to the Northern Cave where they defeat ol’ Sephi and save the world. The same is true for each game, and fundamentally makes any entry to the series a viable subject of an epic three-movie series.
For context, let’s explore a simulation—a Final Fantasy IX movie release. The introductory movie is unveiled to the world, establishing the characters in Alexandria and following the first segment of the story wherein Kuja systematically removes power from the four nations. Then a year or so later, the sequel is released that sees Zidane & company travelling to the outer continents and treats us to some mind-blowing revelations about Kuja’s character before ending somewhere prior to the moment everyone leaves for Terra. Then some time later the climactic final chapter drops, seeing the crew returning from Terra and heading off to face Kuja in the Crystal World. It’s perfect—the ninth entry to the Final Fantasy series has the narrative drive, the emotional depth, and the dramatic energy to be a spectacular Hollywood production.
Of course, Final Fantasy IX is just one example that I personally fancy the most. Once again, almost any Final Fantasy tale has the capacity to fill three feature-length products of action, motion and emotion. But the question lingers—would a mass big-screen adaption campaign be productive enough to strengthen the industry, or would it be an exploitative tactic that would cheapen the brand? At the very least, Advent Children, Kingsglaive, and The Spirits Within are examples of just how good-looking a feature-length Final Fantasy movie has the potential to be, and if only it could follow good examples in the movie industry, we gamers could be allowed to relive our beloved childhood JRPG stories in a medium enjoyed by anyone and everyone else. With the uncertainty of a Metal Gear Solid movie sneaking into our lives at some point in the (relatively) near future, we’ll just have to wait and see how well a genuinely authentic depiction of a widely-treasured video game story performs in the face of real-world audiences.