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Make it a (virtual) Reality: Final Fantasy

This if the life. You’re standing in a luscious meadow, sunlight beaming down on you while grass lightly dances about your ankles. Wildlife is dotted all about; Mogs floating gently through the air and Chocobos grazing in the fields before darting about the landscape. In the distance, a castle of impossible architecture looms over you, its twisted towers stealing your attention from an incoming attack. Suddenly an enormous, sword-wielding beast appears, its revolting breath blowing your ridiculously long hair into the wind. You pull your sword as a party gathers round you. It’s time to go to work.

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Final Fantasy has had an interesting decade or so. In the past generation of videogame consoles the series has remained fixated on its controversial Final Fantasy XIII universe, spanning the 2009 title and 2 sequels. This has arguably alienated fans that didn’t enjoy the original’s largely linear structure and now the series is looking to gain steam. Perhaps bringing the typically staggering production values to virtual reality (VR) is just what the White Mage ordered.

While the brand’s popularity might have dipped, its art direction and visual flair is still second to none. Final Fantasy boasts a unique blend of Japanese aesthetics and blockbuster western scale that’s yet to be seen on the Oculus Rift VR headset or anywhere else. Being able to slip on the headset and step into any one of the sensational universes that the series has crafted over the years would be a dream come true for many fans.

The biggest draw would be the chance to see the stunning vistas and impossible cities in a new perspective. The bright lights of FFVII’s Gold Saucer would dazzle, wading through a Blitzball arena in FFX would empower and reinventing FFVI’s entire World of Ruin in VR would be terrifying. It’s not just the settings but the moments too.  When Final Fantasy characters throw a celebration, they usually do it in city-wide style. When ancient traditions take place there’s a hint of magic in the air. To be in the shoes of a character witnessing these moments in front of our eyes would be worth experiencing 50+ hour epics all over again. These are some of the most immersive worlds in all of videogaming, and virtual reality would break down the barriers between player and videogame even more.

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The series’ famously elaborate character designs would also shine as they stood before you, imposing a sense of presence that can’t quite be captured on a standard screen. We’d be brought closer to our party members than ever before. Exploring worlds with Red XIII traipsing loyally by your side or standing next to Sid as he steers and airship over the land would create connections not yet possible between players and NPCs.

Of course, we’re ignoring the elephant (or Shoopuf) in the room here. Final Fantasy is traditionally a turn-based role-playing experience. We’re yet to see the genre test the waters of VR to see if they’re even compatible. Still, many Oculus users reason that its slow-paced titles that make best use of the headset and this is a genre that really takes its time. We fail to see any reason why the two wouldn’t go hand-in-hand given optimisation and thoughtful development.

If there’s one thing Final Fantasy excels at, it’s reinvention. The series has seen countless sequels and spin-offs that radically change the combat system, structure and other mechanics. Oculus could find a great home here with a combat system that catered to it. We could be standing at the feet of gigantic bosses, using the head tracking to look for critical strike points or trying to anticipate the monster’s next move to increase the chance of avoiding damage. To attack you’d have to hold your breath as you approach the beast and wildly swing at him. Rather than switching between team mates like before, the party leader could issue orders, turning to each combatant and selecting what they’d like them to do so as to never break the immersion.

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It’s easy to look back at Final Fantasy and imagine all the moments that VR could bring us closer to. It’s a series that has always pushed hardware to its limits to bring us the most fantastical settings in all of videogaming. Oculus Rift deserves a big-budget series with that kind of mentality behind it. Square Enix is looking to reinvigorate the franchise; VR could be the perfect way to do that.

‘Make it a (virtual) Reality’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes the videogames we already know and love and looks at how virtual reality (VR) could enhance them. From retro classics to modern blockbusters, we examine the pros and cons of bringing a franchise to VR headsets.